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A CurtainUp Feature: Playwrights Album
An Overview of Suzan-Lori Parksd's Career

Topics Covered
Personal Statistics
Awards and Honors
Play Chronology
Screenplays and Other Writing
Links To Reviews
Quotes From Plays

Personal Statistics

Suzan-Lori Parks
Born Susan-Lori Parks (The z in her name came as a result of a typo on a flier for one of her early plays in the east Village): May 10, 1963 in Fort Knox, Kentucky.

Marital Status: Married to Paul Oscher, a musician.
School Years: As the daughter of a career military man, Kentycky was where she was born but she she grew up in many other places (North Carolina, California, Texas, Vermont, Maryl). Especially influential were the Junior and High School years spent in Germany, and Germany, where she was enrolled in a German school rather than an English speaking school for military personnel children. She has been quoted as saying that this experience, besides teaching her the fundamenls of language, helped her to understand what it felt like "to be neither white or black, but foreign." Parks's U. S. education included graduating cum laude from Mount Holyoke College in 1985 with a B.A. in English and German literature. While one teacher discouraged her from becoming a writer because of her poor spelling. she also had much encouragment, especially from James Baldwin who was a 5 colleges Professor who urged her to write plays. An African-American writer she never met but who also influenced Parks's use of language was Zora Neale Hurston, whose 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God she eventually adapted as a screenplay. She also credits another Mount Holyoke graduate, Wndy Wasserstein, as an inspiration.

Early career: Like most playwrights, Parks had her hard scrabble period. When she first moved to New York, she supported her efforts to jumpstart a playwriting career with various office jobs.

Awards and Honors
1990 Obie Award Best New American Play, Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom
Whiting Writers' Award (1992)
Lila-Wallace Reader's Digest Award (1995)
1996 Obie Award for Playwriting, Venus
2000 Guggenheim Fellowship Playwriting
2001 MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Grant
2002 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Topdog/Underdog
2006 Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts from the Council for the Arts
2007 Academy of Achievement Golden Plate Award
2008 NAACP Theatre Award, - Ray Charles Live! A New Musical

2000 Pulitzer Prize Drama, In The Blood
2002 Drama Desk Award Outstanding New Play, Topdog/Underdog
2002 Tony Award for Best Play, Topdog/Underdog

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Parks is not only recognized for her innovative plays but for being extremely prolific. At age 52 she's created a truly significant body of work, which includes screen plays and a novel.
If there's one thing all her plays have in common is that they are all constructed on a foundation of history and literature and thus of interest not just to "regular" theater goers, but anthropologists and social historians. While In the Blood and F***ing A, the plays known as her "red letter Plays are reconstructions of Nathanial Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter" neither is an adaptation but a completely new and original look at a classic literary character.

Exploring a theme on an ambitious scale might be viewed as another hallmark. The pairing of the above me ntioned two plays has been most ambitiously expanded with her 9-play cycle of plays beginning with the magnificent Father Comes Home From the War (Parts 1, 2, 3) . Less thematically connected but exemplifying her can-do convention breaking spirit was 365 Days/365 Plays a play-a-day-for-a-year marathon effort that revised concentional notions

Father comes Home From the War promises to give us another dramatic history cycle reminiscent of August Wilson's Pittsburgh But while her style and subjects are different from Wilson's she too brings a jazz and poetic esthetic to her writing. What's more, songs (mostly written by her) are integral to much of her work.

Play Chronology
The Sinner's Place (1984)
Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom (1989)
Betting on the Dust Commander (1990)
The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World (1990)
Pickling ( (radio play 1990)
Third Kingdom (radio play 1990)
Locomotive (radio play 1991)
Devotees in the Garden of Love (1992)
The America Play (1994)
Venus (1996)
In The Blood (1999)
Fucking A (2000)
Topdog/Underdog (2001)
365 Days/365 Plays (2006)
Ray Charles Live! (a Musical-Parks' did the book 2007) Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 8 & 9) (2009-Lab Production)
The Book of Grace (2010)
Porgy and Bess (libretto adaptation with Diedre L. Murray 2011)
Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3 2014)

Screenplays and Other Writing
Girl 6 (1996)
Their Eyes Were Watching God (2005, adaptation of Zoran Neale Hurston novel)
Getting Mother's Body: A Novel (Random House 2003)

Links To Reviews (alphabetical order)

Book of Grace
Death of Last Black Man
Father Comes Home
F***ing A
F***ing A as part of Signature Theater Company's Red Letter Plays: Fucking A
In the Blood as part of Signature Theater Company's Red Letter Plays
In the Blood
Porgy & Bess (Book)
Ray Charles Live (book)
Topdog/Underdog (2019 Berkshires)
Top/Dog Underdog
White Noise

Quotes from Plays and by Playwright
He dangled it in front of me. My Freedom. Like a beautiful carrot. Like a diamond. And those scraps of uniform and the diamond Freedom glittered . . .but while I so wanted to I was still thinking on the bald fact that in his service I will be helping out on the wrong side.— Hero expressing his to go-or not go to the Civil war dilemma in Part 1, Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1,2,3)

I am grateful every day that God made me white. As a white I stand on the summit and all the other colors reside beneath me, down below.— Hero's white supremacist owner in Part 2, Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1,2,3)

. . .to make it all right, to make it bearable, so I could breathe I went and I cut my own soul from myself And I gave it up to him. Or I lost it.— Hero reflecting on his bitter victory in Part 3, Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1,2,3)

My life's my own fault. I know that. But the world don't help, Maam— Hester, In the Blood, to which a character named The Welfare Lady responds The world's not here to help us. The world is simply here. We must help ourselves.

Suffering is an enormous turn on../ She had four kids and came to me asking me what to do/ She had a look in her eyes that invites liasons/Eyes that say red spandex.— The Reverend, In the Blood

The smallest seed grows to a tree
A grain of sand pearls in an oyster
A small bit of hate in a heart will inflate
And that's more so much more than enough
To make you a monster.

— from the song by the "angel son" of the "A" branded Hester in F**cking A.

Plenty of bad things turn good in the fullness of time.— Grace, in Book of Grace.

Quotes by Suzan-Lori Parks
...believe that the sort of life you wish to live is, at this very moment, just waiting for you to summon it up. And when you wish for it, you begin moving toward it, and it, in turn, begins moving toward you.— Parks's 2001 Mount Holyoke Commencement Address.
Suggestions and Advice are funny things. In 1982 I took a creative writing class with James Baldwin. He suggested to me that I try playwrighting and I tried playwrighting and here I am today. That was some good advice. But it wasnt the best advice I ever got. The BEST advice I ever got was also the WORST advice any one ever gave me. In high school I had a very stern English teacher and one gloomy day she summoned me into her gloomy office. She knew I loved English and that I wanted to study literature and perhaps someday become a writer—"Dont study English," she said, "you havent got the talent for it." What a horrible thing to say. What an excellent suggestion. It was an excellent suggestion because it forced me to think for myself. And thats my first suggestion for you.— Parks's 2001 Mount Holyoke Commencement Address.

What is it about Lincoln that hooks me first? It's his costume. That's not irreverent or dissing Lincoln. You know what I'm saying? It's his costume: the hat, the beard, the height. This is from a person who as a child was very drawn to mythic characters. So the hat, the beard, the height, I think that that has burned itself in the imagination of the universe in a very deep way, and even if he had been just -- I don't know. Then the other things around it I think -- I don't know -- but I think that we can't dismiss that, because all the world's a stage, and the costume is very, very important. And he freed the slaves and whoo! You can imagine that. There they go, running free. — June 22, 2007 Interview about Top/Dog Underdog Washington, D.C.

{Writing Top/Dog Underdog} It was like silver liquid being poured in the back of my head. That's what that was like. — June 22, 2007 Interview about Top/Dog Underdog Washington, D.C

I don't read reviews. I refuse to have my ego inflated or deflated by someone I don't know.

Each moment is perfect and heaven-sent, in that each moment holds the seeds for growth.

The writing of 'Topdog' was a great gift. I feel the play came to me because I realized that my circumstances, while causing me despair and heartbreak, also held great possibility, if only I could see it.

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Edward Albee
Annie Baker
Samuel Beckett
Anton Chekhov
Horton Foote
Brian Friel
Henrik Ibsen
David Mamet
Arthur Miller
Eugene O'Neill
Suzan-Lori Parks
Harold Pinter
G. Bernard Shaw
Sam Shepard
Tom Stoppard
Wendy Wasserstein
Tennessee williams
August Wilson

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