Suzan-Lori Parks is the next playwright that will be highlighted.
Suzan-Lori Parks (born 10 May 1963) is an African-American playwright and screenwriter. She received the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant in 2001, and the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for her play Topdog/Underdog.
Parks was born in Fort Knox, Kentucky into a military family. She spent part of her childhood in Germany and “attended German high school instead of the English speaking school for military children. The experience, in addition to teaching her the fundamentals of language, showed Parks what it feels like to be neither white nor black, but simply foreign.
She eventually returned to the United States and graduated from The John Carroll School in 1981. She later attended and graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 1985 with a B.A. in English and German literature (cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa).
Parks noted in an interview that her name is spelled with a “Z” as the result of a misprint early in her career:
- When I was doing one of my first plays in the East Village, we had fliers printed up and they spelled my name wrong. I was devastated. But the director said, ‘Just keep it, honey, and it will be fine.’ And it was.
Parks would credit the impact of Mount Holyoke on her career later in life. While she was an undergraduate, her Mount Holyoke English professor Mary McHenry introduced Parks to Five Colleges faculty member James Baldwin. Parks began to take classes with Baldwin and, at his behest, began to write plays. Parks also noted that she was inspired by Wendy Wasserstein, a 1971 Mount Holyoke graduate who won the Pulitzer in 1989 for her play The Heidi Chronicles. Parks also credited another Mount Holyoke professor, Leah Blatt Glasser, with her success.
Parks’ first screenplay was for Spike Lee’s 1996 film, Girl 6. She later worked in conjunction with Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions on screenplays for Their Eyes Were Watching God (2005) and the 2007 film, The Great Debaters (with Robert Eisele).
Parks’ plays include Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom, The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World, The America Play (the opening scene of which inspiredTopdog/Underdog), Venus (about Saartjie Baartman), In The Blood and Fucking A (which are both a retelling of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 novel The Scarlet Letter).
In 2000, Parks received the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award for a playwright in mid-career.Her 2001 play, Topdog/Underdog (a play about family identity, fraternal interdependence, and the struggles of everyday African-American life), won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2002.
From November 2002 to November 2003, Parks wrote a short play each day for a year. The result of this process is the “365 Days/365 Plays” series (featuring premieres of various of the 365 plays around the United States in 2006 and 2007 According to an article in the New York Times, “subject matter for the plays, most only a few pages long, ranges from deities to soldiers to what Ms. Parks saw out of her plane window.”
In the Fall of 2008, the University of Michigan Press published a guide to Parks’s dramatic works, taking a close look at her major plays and placing them in context. Entitled Suzan-Lori Parks, it is part of the Michigan Modern Dramatists series and called by the Publisher “An Accessible guide to the inventive language and experimental stagings of playwright Suzan Lori-Parks”. The author, Deborah R. Geis, traces the evolution of Parks’s art from her earliest experimental pieces to the hugely popular Topdog/Underdog to her wide-ranging forays into fiction, music, and film. This is the latest and one of the few guides to the work of one of America’s most prolific and distinctive playwrights.
She teaches playwriting at Tisch School of the Arts in the Rita & Burton Goldberg Department of Dramatic Writing.
*** All information courtesy of Wikipedia.org***