Suzan-Lori Parks is playing the role predicted by her mentor James Baldwin: “an utterly astounding and beautiful creature who may become one of the most valuable artists of our time.”
After two early plays won Obie awards, Parks became the first African American woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize in drama for Topdog/Underdog (2001), portraying two hustling brothers pointedly named Lincoln and Booth. Broadway led to Hollywood: among other credits, Parks wrote the screenplay for Spike Lee’s Girl 6 and an adaptation of Zora Neale Hurston’s classic Their Eyes Were Watching God. According to the New York Times, Parks’ first novel, Getting Mother’s Body (2003), “suggests her future as a novelist may be as bright as her career in the theater.” Astonishingly prolific, Parks met the challenge she set herself in 2002 to write a play a day for the entire year. She recently completed The War Anthologies, a collaboration with Tony Kushner and other artists. While critics note Parks’ focus on race and class prejudice, she declares: “Every play I write is about love and distance. And time. And from that we can get things like history.”
Parks has also received Guggenheim and Rockefeller fellowships and a MacArthur Foundation “genius” award. She taught drama at Yale University and heads the dramatic writing program at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia.
Excerpt from Topdog/Underdog
Why you think they left us, man?
Mom and Pops? I dont think about it too much.
I dont think they liked us.
Naw, that aint it.
I think there was something out there that they liked more than they liked us and for years they was struggling against moving towards that more liked something. Each of them had a special something that they was struggling against. Moms had hers. Pops had his. And they was struggling. We moved out of that nasty apartment into a house. A whole house. It wernt perfect but it was a house and theyd bought it and they brought us there and everything we owned, figuring we could be a family in that house and them things, them two separate things each of them was struggling against, would just leave them be. Them things would see thuh house and be impressed and just leave them be. Would see thuh job Pops had and how he shined his shoes every night before he went to bed, shining them shoes whether they needed it or not, and thuh thing he was struggling against would see all that and just let him be, and thuh thing Moms was struggling against, it would see the food on the table every night and listen to her voice when she’d read to us sometimes, the clean clothes, the buttons sewed on all right and it would just let her be. Just let us all be, just regular people living in a house. That wernt too much to ask.
Least we was grown when they split.
16 and 11 aint grown.
16’s grown. Almost. And I was ok cause you was there.
Selected WorkDrama365 Days / 365 Plays (2002)In the Blood (2001)Topdog/Underdog (1999)Venus (1996)Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom (1990)FictionGetting Mother’s Body (2003)LinksThe 365 Days/Plays Project