Suzan-Lori Parks Bio, TopDog Underdog, Books, In The Blood

Who is Suzan-Lori Parks ?

Detailed Suzan-Lori Parks Biography

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Suzan-Lori Parks Bio

Suzan-Lori Parks is an American playwright, screenwriter, musician, and novelist. Her 2001 play Topdog Underdog won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2002. Suzan Parks is the first African American woman to achieve this honor for the Pulitzer Prize for drama, Topdog Underdog.

Suzan-Lori Parks Age

Suzan-Lori Parks was born on  May 10, 1963, Fort Knox, Kentucky, U.S.A. She was raised with her two other siblings in a military family. Parks enjoyed writing poems and songs and even created a newspaper with her brother, called the Daily Daily.

Suzan attended  German high school after her father, a career officer in the United States Army, was stationed in West Germany in 1974. This experience showed her “what it feels like to be neither white nor black, but simply foreign”.

Parks graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 1985 with a B.A. in English and German literature while a member of Phi Beta Kappa. She studied under James Baldwin, who encouraged her to become a playwright.

James Baldwin describes Parks during this time as, “an utterly astounding and beautiful creature who may become one of the most valuable artists of our time.” She then studied acting for a year at Drama Studio London in order to better understand the stage.

Suzan-Lori Parks Child

Suzan-Parks is currently married to Christian Konopka. They have a child, a 7-year old son who Suzan said loves Pie.

Suzan-Lori Parks Books

Suzan-Lori Parks

•  100 Plays for the First Hundred Days  The Book of Grace
•   The Oberon Anthology of Contemporary American Plays
•  Getting Mother’s Body
•  The Red Letter Plays
•  The American Play, and other Works

Suzan-Lori Parks TopDog Underdog

One of Parks’ best-known works is Topdog Underdog. The play marked a departure from the heightened language she usually wrote. Suzan Parks admired Abraham Lincoln and believed he left a legacy for descendants of slaves. Topdog Underdog explains what that legacy is. It tells the story of two African-American brothers: Lincoln and Booth.

Lincoln works at a boardwalk arcade, dressing up like Abraham Lincoln and letting the tourists shoot him with plastic guns. He got this job because he could be paid less than the white man who had the job before. Suzan Parks does not judge Lincoln in this play, but rather enjoys bringing him into the other characters’ lives and seeing how they are affected. She said, “Lincoln is the closest thing we have to a mythic figure.

In days of Greek drama, they had Apollo and Medea and Oedipus – these larger than life figures that walked the earth and spoke – and they turned them into plays. Shakespeare had kings and queens that he fashioned into his stories. Lincoln, to me, is one of those.” She also believes that Lincoln “created an opening with that hole in his head.” Suzan makes the case that everything we do has to pass through everything else, like the eye of a needle.

She says all have passed through the hole in Lincoln’s head on our journey to whatever lies ahead. Like many of her other plays, Topdog Underdog takes her characters on a quest to find out who they are and to examine the stories and experiences that have shaped their lives. More than anything, she believes that we have an important relationship with the past.

Suzan-Lori Parks In The Blood

In The Blood is a play written by Suzan-Lori Parks. It was premiered at The Joseph Papp Public Theater in 1999. Parks borrowed many aspects from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and wanted to create a play based on the novel.

Parks originally wanted to call the play Fucking A but scrapped the idea. She later wrote the story based on the main character from The Scarlet Letter, and turned the story into a more modern era, and changed the title to In The Blood. She then wrote a different play that she did title Fucking A.

The story is about a mother, Hester, and her five children in which the father is absent. She is trying to help someone to make her children’s lives better while living in poverty. She has a reputation in the town as a ‘slut’ on her, which is affecting her chance at making a better life for her kids.

Hester seizes the opportunity to receive help from her children’s fathers, with hopes that one may help them. The play moves to other characters’ stories confessions such as the doctor, welfare, and her friend, who is involved with Hester’s struggling predicament.

Suzan-Lori Parks White Noise

Leo, Misha, Ralph, and Dawn are old friends. The two couples have a lot in common–good educations, progressive politics, a taste for culture. But when a racially motivated incident with the cops leaves Leo shaken, he decides he must take extreme measures in order to survive. Suzan-Lori Parks’ newest work reveals how easily fissures can form in the social contracts we build with one another when confronted with difficult questions about race and identity.

Suzan-Lori Parks Interview

What’s it like to do a new production of The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World AKA The Negro Book of the Dead, a play that you wrote a while ago?
It’s an old play. I finished it in 1990. I started writing it in maybe ’87 or ’88, something like that, and I finished it in ’90, so it’s an old play. A new production of an old play that I haven’t really read, or looked at, or thought about much since we did the second production of it, which, I call the definitive production.

The first production was at BACA Downtown, directed by Beth Schachter in 1990. The second production was, I think, a year and a half or two years later, directed by Liz Diamond at Yale [Rep]. The person who was running Yale at the time said, “Liz Diamond, you’re so wonderful. What do you want to direct at Yale Rep?” and she said, “The Death of the Last Black in the Whole Entire World,” so there, we did it there. That, to me, is the definitive production.

Both productions had great actors in it, but that one had Ricardo Hernandez as the set designer, who is our set designer now, and Liz Diamond, and some really awesome, awesome actors. It was a really gorgeous production, and I have not thought about the play since then. So that’s 24 years I haven’t thought about the play that much.

What’s it like? For the first day or two of rehearsal, I was [in my mind] running movie of the 1992 production and, running side by side, the 2016 production, so I’m watching it, watching them both at the same time, and thinking, wow. The actors in ’92 were all so brilliant, but the language was really an alien thing, a foreign tongue. It was like we were asking them to speak in a foreign tongue.

I’ve read in previous interviews that your work is heavily influenced by music, and jazz as a mode of structure.  
Right. So the play opens with an overture, so that’s just like an overture of your favorite musical. Do you like musicals?

Yes, I do. Do you also find that musical structure is a way to teach the audience how to watch the play when they’re watching something that doesn’t have a traditional dramatic structure? 
Yes, teaching the audience how to watch the play. Although, I’m not really thinking about the audience. From my end of it, I am trying to tell the story in the best way I can. The best way I can tell the story is giving us the overture and then showing these duets and then expanding on the themes and then coming back to a new theme, and then expanding on a theme and then coming back to a new theme, and then expanding on a theme, and that’s the end.

Sure, it could help the audience understand how to watch the play because it is not familiar, but it also tells the story the best way to tell the story.

Do you see content and form being the same? 
There’s the famous quote that I love so much. Charles Olson, the poet, “Form is never more than an extension of content,” so yes, that’s right. The form is never more than an extension of content. Charles Olson said it really well. That’s why it’s shaped that way because that tells the story the best way.

I think people see them as two separate things like, “I have a story now, now I got a shoehorn…” or, “I have a character that I love, now I got to find a plot.” I hear writers talking about plot as this kind of, “Darn, I got to find a plot so that people will want to watch this character.” But the story of your character is the essence of your character. We are our plots.

One of the jokes in this play is: What’s the plot of the play? The plot of the play is six by six by six, it’s a grave that the man asks to be dug for him. That’s the plot, his grave site. That’s what the play is all about.

Do you see any themes in your work? Is that something you think about or no?
Themes? No, not at all. Oskar Eustis, an Artistic Director of The Public Theater says, “You’re the poet of freedom. That’s your big thing: freedom.” Okay, yes, freedom. I mean, yes, sure, I write about freedom a lot in my work, but while I appreciate what Oskar says, and that’s cool to have that.

One can get too hung up on those kinds of themes, or if you say, “I have these themes in my work,” because you’re going to wake up one Saturday and you’ll be writing something that doesn’t have to do with that, and you’ll be like, “Oh no, that’s not me,” and that’s a trap.

What happens is, you listen to people tell you who you are and one day you might wake up and find it doesn’t correspond to who you are on that day and what you might want to pursue. Then you might start holding yourself back and second-guessing yourself.

I mean Tolstoy had a sense of humor. Do you have a spiritual life, and does that affect your work?
I do have a spiritual life. I have this tattoo on my arm which says “Ishvara pranidhana” three times. It’s the same phrase, three different times. It’s from the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, Sutra number 1.23. There’s a little bit of a joke going on.

It’s in the place where people wear a watch. I don’t wear a watch, but if I wore a watch, I’d wear it [where the first tattoo is] and the joke is: What time is it? And this says, basically, to submit your will to the will of God. It’s time to submit your will to the will of God. It’s time to follow God, or go with the flow.

So: It’s time to go with the flow, go with the flow, go with the flow. I used to do a lot of yoga, like two hours a day. Now, I do about 20 minutes a day because I have a kid and priorities shift and change. But my 20 minutes a day is my yoga practice and 20 minutes of meditation, so that’s the beginning of my day.

The yoga that I do is a stronger yoga, and there’s a component called Svadhyaya, which is self-study. I’m really interested in self-study. It’s just to be on to yourself about what you say, what you think, what you’re doing, and the idea that the only thing you really have any kind of control over is yourself. You don’t really have control over anything else, and your perception frames your world.

Suzan-Lori Parks The American Play

The America Play is a two-act play written by Suzan-Lori Parks in 1993. The play follows an African-American gravedigger who loves and resembles Abraham Lincoln, so much so that he also works as a Lincoln impersonator. For this reason, he is referred to throughout the play as the Founding Father. As an impersonator, he charges his customers a penny to take part in a reenactment of Lincoln’s assassination.