This article is written like a personal reflection, personal essay, or argumentative essay that states a Wikipedia editor's personal feelings or presents an original argument about a topic. (February 2020)
|Born||May 10, 1963|
Fort Knox, Kentucky, U.S.
|Education||Mount Holyoke College (BA)|
Drama Studio London
|Notable awards||Pulitzer Prize for Drama (2002)|
(m. 2001; div. 2010)
Christian Konopka (current)
Suzan-Lori Parks (born May 10, 1963) is an American playwright, screenwriter, musician and novelist. Her 2001 play Topdog/Underdog won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2002; Parks was the first African-American woman to receive the award for drama.
Early life and education
Parks was born in Fort Knox, Kentucky. She grew up with two siblings in a military family. Parks enjoyed writing poems and songs and created a newspaper with her brother, called the "Daily Daily." Parks attended high school in West Germany, where her father, a career officer in the United States Army, was stationed. The experience showed her "what it feels like to be neither white nor black, but simply foreign". After returning to the U.S., Parks's family relocated frequently and she attended school in Kentucky, Texas, California, North Carolina, Maryland, and Vermont. She graduated high school from The John Carroll School in 1981 while her father was stationed in Aberdeen Proving Ground.
In high school, Parks was discouraged from studying literature by at least one teacher, but upon reading Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, Parks found herself veering away from her interest in chemistry, gravitating towards writing. Parks attended Mount Holyoke College and became a member of Phi Beta Kappa. She graduated in 1985 with a B.A. in English and German literature. She studied under James Baldwin, who encouraged her to become a playwright; Parks was initially resistant to writing for theater, believing that it was "where a lot of people with too much attitude wore funny clothes and funny little costumes, and they talked with funny little voices even though they were from, like, New York or New Jersey. And I didn't respect that." Parks began to take classes with Baldwin and, at his behest, began to write plays. Baldwin later described Parks as, "an utterly astounding and beautiful creature who may become one of the most valuable artists of our time." Parks then studied acting for a year at Drama Studio London.
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 has written three screenplays and numerous stage-plays. Her first screenplay was for Spike Lee's 1996 film Girl 6. She later worked with Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Productions on screenplays for Their Eyes Were Watching God (2005) and The Great Debaters (2007).
Parks became the first female African-American to receive the Pulitzer Prize, which was awarded in 2002 for her play Topdog/Underdog. She has also received a number of grants including the MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Grant in 2001. She is a winner of the 2017 Poets, Essayists and Novelists (PEN) America Literary Awards in the category Master American Dramatist. She received the 2018 Steinberg Distinguished Playwright Award. This biennial award is given to "established playwrights whose body of work has made significant contributions to the American theatre."
Betting on the Dust Commander
Although Betting on the Dust Commander was not the first play Parks wrote, it was the first of her plays to be produced. Her first play The Sinner's Place, which she wrote for her senior project at Mount Holyoke, was rejected for production by her college's drama department as they considered it too experimental since she wanted to have dirt on the stage during the performance. When her second play, Betting on the Dust Commander, first premiered, it ran for three nights in a bar in Manhattan's Lower East Side called Gas Station. It is a short, one-act play set in Kentucky, centering around the lives of a couple, Mare and Lucius, who have been married for 110 years. Parks's unique voice is displayed throughout the text via her use of specific dialect and incorporation of the sounds of sniffling and sneezing as part of the dialogue. The play's title comes from the horse that won the Kentucky Derby in 1970, Dust Commander. As the play goes on, we discover that Dust Commander's Derby is responsible for bringing Mare and Lucius together, and through the couple's discussion of him they think back over their many years of memories together. The motif of dust along with many of the play's lines are intentionally repeated throughout the text. In addition to this Parks does not give the audience any information on how these two characters have managed to live for so long. In this way she destabilizes any linear sense of memory and time. Parks complicates the audience's view of history, relationships, and the past; some argue that Parks's incorporation of these elements and the repetitive style of the text is reminiscent of African rituals and the way that their retelling of stories often incorporate the past in a literal manner.
One of her best-known works is Topdog/Underdog. This play marked a departure from the heightened language she usually wrote. Parks is an admirer of Abraham Lincoln and believed he left a legacy for descendants of slaves. Topdog/Underdog explains what that legacy is. It tells the story of two African-American brothers: Lincoln and Booth. Lincoln works at a boardwalk arcade, dressing up like Abraham Lincoln and letting the tourists shoot him with plastic guns. He got this job because he could be paid less than the white man who had the job before. Parks does not judge Lincoln in this play, but rather enjoys bringing him into the other characters' lives and seeing how they are affected. She said, "Lincoln is the closest thing we have to a mythic figure. In days of Greek drama, they had Apollo and Medea and Oedipus – these larger than life figures that walked the earth and spoke – and they turned them into plays. Shakespeare had kings and queens that he fashioned into his stories. Lincoln, to me, is one of those." Parks also believes that Lincoln "created an opening with that hole in his head." She makes the case that everything we do has to pass through everything else, like the eye of a needle. She says we have all passed through the hole in Lincoln's head on our journey to whatever lies ahead. Like many of her other plays, Topdog/Underdog takes her characters on a quest to find out who they are and to examine the stories and experiences that have shaped their lives. More than anything, she believes that we have an important relationship with the past.
365 Plays/365 Days
Parks decided that she wanted to give herself the task of writing 365 plays in 365 days, hence her play 365 Plays/365 Days. This decision was made shortly after one of her books, Getting Mother's Body, was published. She kept herself on schedule and succeeded. She wrote anywhere she had to: on the road, hotel rooms, and modes of transportation. The end result has been produced by more than 700 theaters around the world.
The plays were presented by 725 performing arts groups, taking turns until the entire cycle was performed. The performances started in 2006, and included venues such as the Denver Center Theatre Company, colleges in England and Australia and the Steel City Theatre Company in Pueblo, Colorado. Other venues were the Steppenwolf Theatre Company and the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, and the Center Theater Group in Los Angeles. The plays were presented at the Public Theater, New York City in November 2006, directed by Michael Greif.
Father Comes Home From the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3
Father Comes Home From the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3 premiered Off-Broadway at the Public Theater on March 14, 2014 and closed on March 22, 2014 in a developmental production. Directed by Jo Bonney, the cast featured Sterling K. Brown (Hero), Peter Jay Fernandez (Oldest Old Man), Russell G. Jones (Leader/Runaway), and Jacob Ming-Trent (Runaway slave / Odyssey Dog / Fourth). The play returned to the Public Theater on October 14, 2014 and ran to December 7, 2014, with the same director and cast. Jacob Ming-Trent won the 2015 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play and Parks won the 2015 Obie Award for playwriting presented by the American Theater Wing. The play, which takes place during the American Civil War, is presented in three parts: Part 1, A Measure of a Man; Part 2, The Battle in the Wilderness; and Part 3, The Union of My Confederate Parts. From September 15 to October 22, 2016 the play had its London premiere at the Royal Court in a transfer of the Public Theatre production directed by Jo Bonney. The cast featured Steve Toussaint, Nadine Marshall, Leo Wringer, Sibusiso Mamba, Tom Bateman, and Jimmy Akingbola.
The play was a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The Pulitzer committee wrote: "A distinctive and lyrical epic about a slave during the Civil War that deftly takes on questions of identity, power and freedom with a blend of humor and dignity."
- Girl 6 (1996)
- Their Eyes Were Watching God (2005)
- Native Son (2019)
- The United States vs. Billie Holiday (2021)
- "Suzan-Lori Parks's Aha! Moment". May 2003. Archived from the original on 2008-01-13.
- "Commencement Speech to the Mount Holyoke College Class of 2001". Mount Holyoke College. 27 May 2001. Cite journal requires
- "An Equation for Black People Onstage." In The America Play and Other Works, 19–22. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1995.
- "From the Elements of Style." In The America Play and Other Works, 6–18. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1995.
- "Possession." In The America Play and Other Works, 3–5. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1995.
- "Tradition and the Individual Talent." Theater 29.2 (1999): 26–33.
- 1990 Obie Award Best New American Play – Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom
- 1992 Whiting Award
- 1995 Lila-Wallace Reader's Digest Award
- 1996 Obie Award for Playwriting – Venus
- 2000 Guggenheim Fellowship Playwriting
- 2000 Pulitzer Prize Drama finalist – In The Blood
- 2001 MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Grant
- 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Drama – Topdog/Underdog
- 2002 Drama Desk Award Outstanding New Play nomination – Topdog/Underdog
- 2002 Tony Award for Best Play nomination – Topdog/Underdog
- 2006 Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts from the Council for the Arts at MIT (CAMIT)
- 2007 Academy of Achievement Golden Plate Award
- 2008 NAACP Theatre Award - Ray Charles Live! A New Musical
- 2015 Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History - "Father Comes Home From the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3"
- 2015 Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize
- 2015 Lucille Lortel Outstanding Play Award nomination - Father Comes Home From the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3
- 2015 Pulitzer Prize Drama finalist - Father Comes Home From the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3
- 2017 PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Awards for Master American Dramatist
- 2018 Windham–Campbell Literature Prize in Drama
- 2019 Outer Critics Circle Award, Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play — White Noise
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.
She teaches playwriting at Tisch School of the Arts in the Rita & Burton Goldberg Department of Dramatic Writing.
- "Suzan-Lori Parks Biography". biography.com. Retrieved July 30, 2015.
- "Suzan-Lori Parks Biography and Interview". www.achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.
- Suzan-Lori Parks (Archived from January 2010)
- "Connections" (PDF). John Carroll School. Spring 2007. p. 4. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-08-08.
- "Biography Page for Suzan-Lori Parks". The History Makers. November 21, 2006. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved August 5, 2015.
- Jiggetts, Shelby; Parks, Suzan-Lori (1996-01-01). "Interview with Suzan-Lori Parks". Callaloo. 19 (2): 309–317. doi:10.1353/cal.1996.0053. JSTOR 3299177. S2CID 161387051.
- "Suzan-Lori Parks Interview". Academy of Achievement. June 22, 2007. Archived from the original on January 8, 2009.
- Als, Hilton (October 30, 2006). "The Show-Woman". The New Yorker. Retrieved January 28, 2016.
- "Suzan-Lori Parks Biography". biography.com. Retrieved 14 August 2015.
- "Suzan-Lori Parks '85 Took Her Cue from Five College Professor James Baldwin". Mount Holyoke College. Archived from the original on July 13, 2010. Retrieved August 13, 2015.
- "Suzan-Lori Parks '85 Wins Pulitzer Prize for Drama". College Street Journal. April 12, 2002. Archived from the original on November 29, 2005.
- "In the News: Traditions and communications". College Street Journal. May 24, 1996. Archived from the original on March 23, 2005.
- 'Debaters' makes its case Archived 2009-04-13 at the Wayback Machine
- Harris, Dana and Brodesser, Claude (2004). "Back-to-back helming: Washington to take 2 gigs", Variety, September 29, 2004. Retrieved December 16, 2007.
- Hetrick, Adam. "Suzan-Lori Parks, Tarell Alvin McCraney, and Thomas Bradshaw Win PEN America Literary Awards" Playbill, February 23, 2017
- Hetrick, Adam. "Suzan-Lori Parks Named 2018 Steinberg Distinguished Playwright Award Winner" Playbill, October 3, 2018
- Garrett, Shawn Marie (2000-10-01). "The Possession of Suzan-Lori Parks". AMERICAN THEATRE. Retrieved 2018-09-19.
- Als, Hilton (2006-10-30). "The Show-Woman". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2018-09-18.
- Kolin, Philip C. "Cultural memory and circular time in Suzan-Lori Parks's betting on the dust commander." Notes on Contemporary Literature, vol. 39, no. 3, 2009. Academic OneFile, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A206534461/AONE?u=nysl_me_newsch&sid=AONE&xid=5baae04b. Accessed 19 Sept. 2018.
- Parks, Suzan-Lori. The America Play and Other Works, Theatre Communications Group, 1994. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/newschool/detail.action?docID=939916.
- Shenk, Joshua Wolf (2002-04-07). "Theater; Beyond a Black-and-White Lincoln". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-04-20.
- "Suzan-Lori Parks Biography -- Academy of Achievement". www.achievement.org. Archived from the original on 2014-01-06. Retrieved 2016-04-20.
- Moore, John. "365 Days … 365 Plays", The Denver Post, November 10, 2006, retrieved January 15, 2017.
- Robertson, Campbell. "A Playwright's Cycle, With a New Work a Day for an Entire Year", The New York Times, November 10, 2006.
- " Father Comes Home From the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3 March", lortel.org, retrieved January 14, 2017.
- " Father Comes Home From the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3 October", lortel.org, retrieved January 14, 2017
- Obie Awards, 2015 Winners obieawards.com
- Hetrick, Adam. "Suzan-Lori Parks Father Comes Home from the Wars' Extends Again" Playbill, November 17, 2014
- " royalcourttheatre.com, retrieved October 25, 2018
- "Suzan-Lori Parks" pulitzer.org, retrieved January 14, 2017
- White Noise lortel.org, retrieved May 13, 2019
- "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". www.achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.
- "Kennedy Prize, 2015", columbia.edu, February 23, 2015, retrieved January 14, 2017
- Piepenburg, Erik (October 14, 2015). "Suzan-Lori Parks Is Awarded the Gish Prize". The New York Times. Retrieved October 14, 2015.
- "Yale awards eight writers $165,000 Windham-Campbell Prizes". YaleNews. 2018-03-07. Retrieved 2018-03-07.
- Staff. " 'Hadestown' Leads the Outer Critics Circle Awards With 6 Wins" Playbill, May 13, 2019
- "Suzan-Lori Parks and Paul Oscher". BMI.com. 2006-10-17. Retrieved 2021-10-05.
- "Giving History a New Voice Keeps It Alive". The Vineyard Gazette - Martha's Vineyard News. Retrieved 2021-10-05.
- "A moment with Suzan-Lori Parks, playwright", The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 26, 2003.
- Baym, Nina (ed.) "Suzan-Lori Parks." In The Norton Anthology of American Literature, 6th edition, Vol. E. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 2003: 2606–2607.
- Collins, Ken and Victor Wishna. "Suzan-Lori Parks." In In Their Company: Portraits of American Playwrights. New York: Umbrage Editions, 2006: 186–189.
- NPR interviews. "Suzan-Lori Parks".
- "In Dialogue: The Imperceptible Mutabilities of Susan-Lori Parks in 365 Plays And As Many Days Across The Whole Kingdom" interview by Barbara Cassidy, The Brooklyn Rail, November 2006.
- Geis, Deborah R. 2008. Suzan-Lori Parks. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
- Ghasemi, Mehdi. 2016. "Quest/ion of Identities in African American Feminist Postmodern Drama: A Study of Selected Plays by
Suzan-Lori Parks." Turku: Painosalama Oy. Accessed July 14, 2020. http://www.utupub.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/123601/AnnalesB419Ghasemi.pdf?sequence=4&isAllowed=y.
- Marshal, John. 2003. "A Moment with Suzan-Lori Parks, Playwright." Seattle Post-Intelligencer (May 25). Accessed April 20, 2015. http://www.seattlepi.com/ae/books/article/A-momentwith-Suzan-Lori-Parks-playwright-1115418.php.
- Wetmore Jr., Kevin J. 2007. "It's an Oberammergau Thing: An Interview with Suzan-Lori Parks." In Suzan-Lori Parks: A Casebook, edited by Kevin J. Wetmore Jr. and Alycia Smith-Howard, 124–140. London and New York: Routledge,
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Suzan-Lori Parks|
- Suzan-Lori Parks at the Internet Broadway Database
- Suzan-Lori Parks at IMDb
- Suzan-Lori Parks at the Internet Off-Broadway Database
- Suzan-Lori Parks - The Whiting Foundation
- Suzan-Lori Parks - Encyclopædia Britannica
- Voices from the Gaps Biography - University of Minnesota
- Women of Color Women of Words Biography - Rutgers University
- Suzan-Lori Parks '85 Visits MHC (March 2007)