A Kentucky native, Suzan-Lori Parks was born in Fort Knox but moved frequently (her father was an officer in the United States Army). Parks' high school years in West Germany gave her a new perspective on "otherness"--a theme that shows up frequently in her plays. At Mount Holyoke College, she studied English and German literature; however, while taking classes with James Baldwin, he encouraged her to begin writing plays. Initially, Parks was hesitant, not seeing how she could possibly connect to the world of the stage. In a Callaloo interview in 1996, Parks described the stage as something she didn't respect: "people with too much attitude" dressed, talked, and looked funny. But she listened to Baldwin, and began crafting plays. After graduating in 1985, Parks studied acting at the Drama Studio in London.
Parks was not only inspired by Baldwin (who called her "an utterly astounding and beautiful creature who may become one of the valuable artists of our time"), but also Holyoke professor Leah B. Glasser, and Wendy Wasserstein, another Mount Holyoke graduate who won the Pulizter Prize in 1989. Parks indeed lived up to Baldwin's assessment, and was named by Time magazine as one of the "100 Innovators for the Next Wave." Through her plays, Parks has crafted a unique style and voice. Her plays incorporate "Rep & Rev," a rhythmic repetition and revision of language inspired by the rhythms and improvisations of jazz.
Suzan-Lori Parks is one of the most recognized and honored playwrights alive today. She won the Obie Award for Best New American Play in 1990 for Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom. She won an Obie Award again in 1996 for Venus, and in 2000 received a Guggenheim Fellowship for Playwriting. In 2001, she received the MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Grant, and in 2002 Parks became the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Topdog/Underdog--which also won the 2002 Tony Award for Best Play.
Parks currently teaches playwriting at the Tisch School of the Arts, in addition to writing for stage and film. (Her screenplays include Girl 6, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Native Son.)
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