Profile: Suzan-Lori Parks

Suzan-Lori Parks

Pulitzer Prize-winning Playwright
Named one of TIME magazine’s “100 Innovators for the Next New Wave,” Suzan-Lori Parks is one of the most exciting and acclaimed playwrights in American drama today. She is the first African American woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize in Drama for the Broadway hit Topdog/Underdog and is a MacArthur “Genius” Award recipient, among her many other honors. Parks has said of her presentations: “My lectures aren’t your typical writer-behind-the-podium evening – audiences call them ‘the Suzan-Lori Parks show.’” Her talks are part performance, part storytelling – always high energy, with an inspired sense of humor.

In 2007, her project 365Days/365Plays was produced in over 700 theaters worldwide, creating one of the largest grassroots collaborations in theater history. Her numerous plays include Topdog/Underdog, In the Blood (2000 Pulitzer Prize finalist), Venus (1996 OBIE Award), The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World, Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom (1990 OBIE Award for Best New American Play), and The America Play. In 1990 she wrote and directed her first film, Anemone Me produced by Christine Vachon and Todd Haynes.

Her first feature-length screenplay was Girl 6 written for Spike Lee. She’s also written screenplays for Brad Pitt, Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster, and adapted Zora Neale Hurston’s classic novel Their Eyes Were Watching God which starred Halle Barry and premiered on ABC’s Oprah Winfrey Presents. Parks co-authored the screenplay for The Great Debaters, starring Denzel Washington (December 2007 release). Parks’s well-reviewed first novel Getting Mother’s Body (Random House, 2003) is set in the west Texas of her youth and follows the scrappy Beede family as they embark on a riotous road trip in hopes of recovering a fortune of jewels – rumored to be buried with a long-dead relative.

Parks recently starred the The Making of Plus One, a “mockumentary” taking place during the Cannes Film Festival (2009 release). She is the author of Ray Charles Live!, a musical based on the life of Ray Charles that premiered at the Pasadena Playhouse. Parks will direct the Broadway revival of August Wilson’s Fences in 2009.

Parks has taught as several academic institutions including the California Institute of the Arts and Yale School of Drama.

Holding honorary doctorates from Brown University, among others, Suzan-Lori credits her writing teacher and mentor, James Baldwin, for starting her on the path of playwriting. One of the first to recognize Parks’s writing skills, Mr. Baldwin declared Parks “an astonishing and beautiful creature who may become one of the most valuable artists of our time.”

“Her dislocating stage devices, stark but poetic language and fiercely idiosyncratic images transform her work into something haunting and marvelous.” — TIME magazine web

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