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Fri, 05.10.1963

Suzan-Lori Parks, Playwright born

Suzan-Lori Parks

*Suzan-Lori Parks was born on this date in 1963.  She is a Black playwright, screenwriter, musician and novelist.  

She 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' 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, at least one teacher discouraged Parks from studying literature. Still, upon reading Virginia Woolf's To the Light House, Parks veered 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. 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."  

She studied under James Baldwin, who encouraged her to become a playwright; 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 grad, 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 Black female to receive the Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for her play Topdog/Underdog. She has also received several 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."   

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