Playwright Profile: Suzan-Lori Parks
A playwright, screenwriter, novelist, and songwriter, Suzan-Lori’s play TOPDOG/UNDERDOG won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. In 2001 she received a MacArthur Fellows “Genius” Grant, and she holds Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts Degrees from Mount Holyoke College and Spelman College. Her work is the subject of the PBS film “The Topdog/Underdog Diaries,” and her plays are published by Theatre Communications Group and Dramatists Play Service, Inc. Her first feature-length screenplay was “girl 6,” for Spike Lee. She has also written screenplays for Jodie Foster, Danny Glover, and Oprah Winfrey. Other screenplays include adaptations of Toni Morrison’s novel “Paradise,” Zora Neale Hurston’s novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” and screenplays for Miramax and Brad Pitt. Her plays include IN THE BLOOD (2000 Pulitzer nominee), VENUS (1996 Obie Award), FUCKING A, THE AMERICA PLAY, IMPERCEPTIBLE MUTABILITIES IN THE THIRD KINGDOM (1990 Obie Award), THE DEATH OF THE LAST BLACK MAN IN THE WHOLE ENTIRE WORLD, and 365 DAYS/365 PLAYS. TOPDOG/UNDERDOG (2002 Tony nominee) has had successful runs on Broadway, in cities throughout the United States, and in London at the Royal Court Theatre. Additional recognition includes two NEA playwriting fellowships, a W. Alton Jones Grant, a grant from The Kennedy Center Fund For New American Plays, the Whiting Writer’s Award, and grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the CalArts/Alpert Award, the PEW Charitable Trusts, and The Guggenheim Foundation. Suzan-Lori is a professor at the California Institute for the Arts where she heads the Dramatic Writing Program. Her first novel, “Getting Mother’s Body,” is published by Random House.
Topdog/Underdog is a dark comedy revolving around two African American brothers: Lincoln and Booth. Their father chose their names as a twisted joke shortly before deserting them. The choice of naming the children after an assassin and his target foreshadows how tumultuous the relationship between Lincoln and Booth would become.