About Suzan-Lori Parks

To locate Suzan-Lori Parks’ works and scholarship about them in the library and online, go to http://libguides.southwestern.edu/parks

Suzan-Lori Parks is the first African American woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize in drama. Parks earned her undergraduate degree from Mount Holyoke College, where she took a course from author and civil rights activist James Baldwin. She wrote her first play, The Sinner’s Place, while still in school. She won Obie Awards for her third play, Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom, and for her eighth play, Venus, about a South African Khoisan woman taken to England as a sideshow attraction.

Parks received the Pulitzer Prize in drama for her 2002 play Topdog/Underdog, which depicts the struggles of everyday African American life. Parks’ work is the subject of the PBS film The Topdog Diaries.

Parks’ other plays include The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World, The America Play, about a man obsessed with Abraham Lincoln, In the Blood, which updates Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, and The Book of Grace, a biblically inflected examination of the familial relations of a racist patriarch.

For one year, from November 2002 to November 2003, Parks wrote a short play every day. The plays were performed in 2006-2007 as part of a project called 365Days/365Plays, which was one of the largest grassroots collaborations in theater history

Parks’ 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 2007 film The Great Debaters.

Parks wrote a revival of Porgy and Bess that opened on Broadway in December 2011, and has written a musical about Ray Charles. Her first novel, Getting Mother’s Body, is set in west Texas 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. She currently is working on her second novel.

In 2001, Parks received one of the MacArthur Foundation’s coveted “Genius Awards,” which provide recipients with $500,000 over five years to pursue their creative, intellectual and professional inclinations with no strings attached. She also has earned grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the Guggenheim Foundation.

Parks has taught at California Institute of the Arts and Yale School of Drama, and she holds honorary doctorates from Brown University and others. She credits her teacher and mentor James Baldwin for starting her on the path of playwriting. One of the first to recognize Parks’ writing skills, 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