Suzan-Lori Parks

Pulitzer-winning dramatist

An American playwright and screenwriter, Susan-Lori Parks received a MacArthur Foundation “genius” award in 2001 and a Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2002 for “Topdog/Underdog,” a play about family identity, fraternal interdependence and the struggles of everyday African-American life.

Parks was born in 1964 in Fort Knox, Ky., and went to high school in West Germany. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Mount Holyoke College in 1985 with a B.A. in English and German literature. While in college, Parks took a writing class with novelist James Baldwin, who called her “an utterly astounding and beautiful creature who may become one of the most valuable artists of our time.” At his behest, she began to write plays.

Her play, “Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom” won the 1989-1990 Obie Award for Best New American Play. A later play, “Venus,” about a woman from Africa who is exhibited as a sideshow attraction in 19th-century Europe, won the 1995-1996 Obie Award for Playwriting.

“I like my audiences to think for themselves,” she said in a December 2005 interview for the Syracuse Post Standard. “This is America, after all. It’s a free country, for the next 10 minutes. I enjoy hearing what my audiences think. That’s the whole joy of art.”

Parks’ plays include “The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World,” “The America Play” (the opening scene of which inspired “Topdog/Underdog”), and “In the Blood” (2000 Pulitzer Prize nominee), a retelling of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 novel, “The Scarlet Letter.”

The first African-American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for drama, Parks wrote her first screenplay for “Girl 6,” a 1996 film directed by Spike Lee. She later wrote the teleplay for the 2005 film, “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” based on the novel by Zora Neale Hurston, and co-wrote the film “The Great Debaters.”

Her other awards include the Whiting Writers’ Award in 1992 and the Guggenheim Fellowship for playwriting in 2000.

Learn more about Suzan-Lori Parks.

Sponsored by MIT’s Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies and the Angus N. McDonald Fund, with additional support from the MIT literature section, Program in Women’s Studies, Office of the Associate Provost, Campus Committee on Race Relations, theater arts section, the DeFlorez Fund and the Council for the Arts at MIT.

This residency is presented by The Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts at MIT.

Public Events

In conjunction with the McDermott Award, Parks returned to MIT in the spring as an artist-in-residence, working with students and faculty and making a public presentation.

Suzan-Lori Parks: Public Reading and Discussion
October 26, 2007 / 7:00 p.m.
MIT Lecture Hall 10-250
77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA

MIT Campus News: Pulitzer-winning dramatist honored