Suzan-Lori Parks

2006 Recipient of the Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts at MIT

Pulitzer-winning dramatist

About the Award

The Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts at MIT recognizes innovative talents and offers the recipient a $100,000 prize and a campus residency.

The Award

Established in 1974 by the Council for the Arts at MIT, the Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts at MIT is bestowed upon individuals whose artistic trajectory and body of work indicate that they will achieve the highest distinction as leaders in their fields. One of the most generous arts honors in the US, the Award reflects MIT’s commitment to risk-taking, problem solving and to the idea of connecting creative minds across disciplines. The Award is considered an investment in the recipient’s future creative work, rather than a prize for a particular project or lifetime of achievement.

The Residency

A distinctive feature of the Award is a campus residency, which includes a celebratory event at which the Award is presented, a public presentation of the artist’s work and significant interactions with students, faculty and staff. The goal of the residency is to provide the recipient unparalleled access to the creative energy and cutting-edge research found in the MIT community and to have the recipient connect with departments, laboratories and research centers throughout the Institute in ways that will be mutually enlightening.

The Selection Process

The Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts at MIT may be given to an artist working in any field or cross-disciplinary activity, including architecture, creative writing, dance, design, filmmaking, media arts, music, theater and visual arts. Award nominees are identified by an Advisory Committee, which is composed of international leaders in arts and culture. An Award Committee, chosen by the Council for the Arts at MIT and comprised of arts leaders at MIT, then selects the recipient.

Eugene McDermott

The Award honors Eugene McDermott (1899-1973), cofounder of Texas Instruments and long-time friend and benefactor of MIT. The Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts at MIT was created by the Council for the Arts at MIT in 1974 and further endowed by Eugene’s wife, Margaret.

A geophysicist, Eugene McDermott was a member of the MIT Corporation from 1960 to 1973. The scholarship funds he established at MIT reflect his commitment to education and the public art he donated a conviction, shared with his wife Margaret, that the physical environment of a campus has great influence upon the character of an institution. They commissioned Eugene’s Stevens Tech classmate Alexander Calder to create The Great Sail, which was dedicated in 1966 on McDermott Court, facing the Green building. In 1976, the McDermott family and other friends of MIT made a gift of Three Piece Reclining Figure, Draped, by Henry Moore, which graces Killian Court.

Public Events

Past Events

In conjunction with the McDermott Award, Parks came 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


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.