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Sun, 09.13.1931

Adrienne Kennedy, Playwright born

Adrienne Kennedy

Adrienne Kennedy, a Black playwright, was born on this date in 1931.

She was born Adrienne Lita Hawkins in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her mother, Etta Hawkins, was a teacher, and her father, Cornell Wallace Hawkins, was a social worker.  Hawkins was a very gifted child, learning to read at three. When she was four, her family moved to Cleveland, Ohio. Because they moved into an integrated neighborhood, her life became slightly rigid.  In order to overcome this obstacle, Kennedy developed a theatrical inner life, watching the world around her, especially her family, as if they were in a play. Hawkins used these images as mixtures of the characters in her plays.

Two weeks after she graduated from Ohio State University with a degree in elementary education, she married Joseph C. Kennedy.  After six months of marriage, Joseph was sent to Korea, so Kennedy moved in with her parents. When Joseph returned from Korea, they moved to New York. While he furthered his education at Columbia Teacher's College, she pursued her interest in writing through a creative writing class at Columbia University and at the American Theater Wing. In 1961, when the family moved to Africa when she was 29, she started the play Funnyhouse of the Negro. She finished this play in Italy, where her family was forced to move due to a difficult pregnancy with her second son.

This Obie Award-winning play would launch her career as a playwright.  Kennedy's unique writing style has greatly influenced different aspects of the theater. She created her dramatic vision in which she used various theatrical devices such as masks, nontraditional music, characters being played by more than one actor, and the transformation of one character into another.  Her writing is unique and has been described as vivid and imaginative. The reader or actor can sense that Kennedy enjoys what she is doing. Kennedy can entwine many different influences into her works; because of this, her writings reflect a synthesis of artistry and craft.

In 1962, she joined Edward Albee's Playwrights' Workshop beginning over a 30-year career in theater. Kennedy has been a lecturer at Yale and the University of California at Berkeley and has taught playwriting at Princeton and Brown.  She has received Guggenheim Fellowships, NEA, and Rockefeller Foundation Grants.  In 1992, the mayor of Cleveland declared March 7 to be Adrienne Kennedy Day.  Also, in 1992, the Great Lakes Theatre Company organized a month-long celebration of her work.

That same year, she wrote The Ohio State Murders, first produced in Cleveland.  A few years later, the Signature Theatre Company selected her as its playwright of the fall season and produced seven of her plays. Kennedy’s play "Oedipus Rex 2001," produced by the Hartford Stage.  Other 21st century plays by Kennedy include Mom, How Did You Meet the Beatles? (with son Adam Kennedy), 2008 and He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box, 2018.  Her poem "Forget," 2016, in New Daughters of Africa (ed. Margaret Busby), 2019


The Adrienne Kennedy

Image: New York Times

Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and
African American Experience
Editors: Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Copyright 1999
ISBN 0-465-0071-1

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