Adam Ashraf Elsayigh is trying to keep things complicated. Like life. Maybe, even, with a bit of humor.

As a playwright who identifies as queer and is also a member of the Arab diaspora, Elsayigh has always felt “between worlds,” a perspective that informs his work in both sensibility and subject matter. “I write plays,” he says, “at the intersections of colonialism, immigration, and queerness.”

That is not to say that each of his works is obviously about all of these themes. He is not a writer who wants to check off boxes—or to fit inside of one.

Born in Egypt, Elsayigh was raised in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Cairo—what he calls an “intense international” upbringing. After attending a British school in Dubai, he enrolled as an undergraduate at New York University Abu Dhabi before settling in New York for graduate school in 2018. He earned his M.F.A. from Brooklyn College in December 2022.

“Pretty early on in my undergraduate career, I knew that I wanted to write plays and that I was a playwright,” Elsayigh says, adding, “mostly because I’m not really good at anything else.”

When Elsayigh “realized [he] was queer” at 12 or 13 years old, he went looking for stories that reflected the reality of being “a queer man from Egypt.” He never found them. And so, Elsayigh needed to write the kind of work he wanted to read—a story that would reflect the reality of being “a young queer person in the Arab region of the world.”

Out of this need, and his belief in the importance that art reflects all of its audiences, came Elsayigh’s play Drowning in Cairo. The play depicts “three men in love who struggle to rebuild their lives” in the aftermath of a May 2001 raid by Egyptian authorities at a gay nightclub on the Queen Boat, a vessel docked in the Nile. The work premiered in San Francisco in spring 2022, staged by Golden Thread Productions.

After taking playwriting classes as an undergraduate, Elsayigh was looking to apply to graduate school. He says he “was told by, like, five different people” that Brooklyn College was “one of the best places in the country for playwriting.” And so, he applied, ultimately finding his time at Brooklyn College to be “a magical journey.”

Initially, Elsayigh did not think he would get into the Brooklyn College program. His doubt stemmed from the fact that he considered the program “experimental,” and did not feel like his plays fit that description. “I’m such a basic writer,” he says. “I write in the most traditional ways.”

But one of his professors, Haruna Lee ’15 M.F.A., who was co-director of the playwriting program in 2001 and 2022, convinced Elsayigh to expand his idea of experimental. “Maybe the product of what you make fits a commercial stage,” Elsayigh remembers Lee telling him, “but the way you make plays is not [commercial].”

Agreeing with this statement, Elsayigh notes that he rejects the idea of the genius writer scribbling alone in a room. “I’m very interested,” he says, “in collaborative processes and devised processes and theater that is made with community members.”

Elsayigh has been able to explore these techniques in his current projects.

Commissioned by San Francisco–based Golden Thread Productions, one of these projects, a collaboration with dramaturg Salma Zohdi, focuses on the life of British-Egyptian blogger and activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah, a prominent political prisoner in Egypt. Another project, a collaboration with playwright Arianna Gayle Stucki, uses verbatim language from victims’ families and a community member to address the Christchurch, New Zealand, terror attacks of 2019.

After Drowning in Cairo, Elsayigh felt as if “everyone wanted me to write the same play 50 times again, and I was like, ‘No, thank you. I have a personality besides just being a gay Arab man. So can I have that too?’”