- NAME: Suzan-Lori Parks
- OCCUPATION: Author, Playwright, Screenwriter
- BIRTH DATE: May 10, 1963 (Age: 50)
- Did You Know?: Suzan-Lori Parks is the first African-American writer to win a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, doing so in 2002 for Topdog/Underdog.
- EDUCATION: The John Carroll School, Mount Holyoke College, Drama Studio London
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Fort Knox, Kentucky
- Full Name: Suzan-Lori Parks
- AKA: Susan-Lori Parks
- ZODIAC SIGN: Taurus
Best Known For
Suzan-Lori Parks is a playwright and novelist who won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Topdog/Underdog, with later projects like 365 Days/365 Plays and Porgy and Bess.
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Born in Fort Knox, Kentucky, on May 10, 1963, Suzan-Lori Parks was encouraged by author James Baldwin to become a playwright, later penning award-winning works like Venus. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama—becoming the first African-American writer to do so—in 2002, for Topdog/Underdog. A novelist and screenwriter as well, Parks has also helmed the innovative 365 Days/365 Plays and a re-launch of Porgy and Bess.
"I love my lecture tours. ...No podium, no distance between me and the audience, and I just talk to people and get all excited and tell a lot of jokes, and sing some songs, and read from my work and remind people how powerful they are and how beautiful they are."
"I have this theory that the soul is like a lizard's tail. If you pull it off, another one will grow back in its place. But repeated abuses will give you a lot of scar tissue. So there's a lot of scar tissue around the soul. While it will always grow back, it doesn't function as well."
"Some other folks, they're very intimidated by the power of the writer, just like some people are intimidated by the power that women have. So they have to make people feel shitty about themselves. People are intimidated by the power that black people have. So they have to make black people feel shitty about themselves. And it's a lie. I can't live that lie."
"There are aspects of music that I borrow and use in my work: repetition and revision. A big part of jazz is repeat and revise, and repeat and revise. That's what my work is all about."
"There's a lot of that in the media these days, people calling people things, mostly unkind things, and who has the right to call who what? Context is everything—everything. We have to be aware that names have a lot of power."
"I usually don't write sitting down. To me, language is a physical act. I do this with my own writing and I try to get my students to do this when they write—to move around, so that they are focusing on the breath of the characters, on the physical life of the character ..."
"I've said I write plays because I love black people. ...Not that I had any other reason before that, but I realized why I want black people on stage—because I love them."
"The writer has two kinds of faith: actual writing and sitting openly. Have faith in your personal effort or sweat. And faith in God, or whatever you want to call it. Then the voices will come."
Suzan-Lori Parks was born in Fort Knox, Kentucky, on May 10, 1963, to Francis McMillan and Donald Parks. With her father being an army officer, the family moved around quite a bit, with the young Parks living in Germany for a time. She was a lover of music and stories, including myths of goddesses and gods, and despite initially being discouraged from pursuing writing by a teacher, she followed what spoke to her.
Parks eventually attended Mount Holyoke College, from which she graduated Phi Betta Kappa in 1985. During undergrad she took a workshop run by writer James Baldwin, who lauded Parks for her abilities and suggested that she become a playwright upon observing her perform characters as she read her stories. Thereafter she took acting classes in London at the Drama Studio to better understand the overall craft of stage work.
Parks's first produced play, 1987's Betting on the Dust Commander, had a run at the Gas Station bar in New York City. More work followed, including the Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom (1989), for which Parks won an Obie Award, and The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World (1992). She won another Obie for the production of Venus (1996), staged at the Public Theater with artistic director George C. Wolfe and which dramatized the story of Saartjie Baartman, an African woman whose body was the center of a side show spectacle. Next followed the Scarlet Letter-inspired In the Blood (1999), to be joined years later by Fucking A (2003), another spin on the Nathaniel Hawthorne work with S. Epatha Merkerson as Hester.
Parks made history with her play Topdog/Underdog, about two brothers—one who plays Abraham Lincoln and another who plays the president's assassin, John Wilkes Booth, in an arcade setting. Initially staged at the Public in 2001, the work made its way to Broadway's Ambassador Theater, starring Mos Def and Jeffrey Wright. An acclaimed production that was nominated for a Tony Award, Parks won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama—making her the first African-American writer to do so—in 2002. She had also received the MacArthur "Genius Grant" Award the same year as Topdog's Public debut.
In 2003, Parks published her first novel, Getting Mother's Body, a propulsive, humorous story about a quest for buried jewels in the South.
Suzan-Lori Parks had ventured into screenwriting territory as well, penning the script for Spike Lee's 1996 film Girl 6 and later working on Oprah Winfrey's TV adaptation of the Zora Neale Hurston novel Their Eyes Were Watching God (2005), starring Halle Berry.
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