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Playwright to Give 2012 Writer’s Voice Lecture

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    Suzan-Lori Parks (Photo by Stephanie Diani)
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    In conjunction with the 2012 Writer's Voice lecture, an art exhibit titled “Identity, Race, Diversity, Humanity: The Creative Works of Letitia Eldredge” will be on display in Special Collections from Oct. 11-Nov. 16. Eldredge is shown here setting up some of her work for the exhibition.

Nov. 13 lecture will be accompanied by an art exhibit and theatre performances

Suzan-Lori Parks, the first African American woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize in drama, will deliver the 2012 Writer’s Voice lecture sponsored by the A. Frank Smith, Jr. Library Center at Southwestern University. Parks will give a public lecture at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 13, in the Alma Thomas Theater.

Parks received her undergraduate degree from Mount Holyoke College, where she was encouraged to try playwriting by author and civil rights activist James Baldwin. She wrote her first play, “The Sinner’s Place,” while still in school. She won Obie Awards for her third play, “Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom,” and for her eighth play, “Venus,” about a South African Khoisan woman taken to England as a sideshow attraction.

Parks received the Pulitzer Prize in drama for her 2002 play titled “Topdog/Underdog,” which depicts the struggles of everyday African American life.

Parks’ other plays include “The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World,”The America Play,” about a man obsessed with Abraham Lincoln, “In the Blood, which updates Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, and “The Book of Grace,” a biblically inflected examination of the familial relations of a racist patriarch.

From November 2002 to November 2003, Parks wrote a short play each day for a year. The plays were performed in 2006-2007 as part of a project called “365Days/365Plays,” which was one of the largest grassroots collaborations in theater history. 

Parks’ first screenplay was for Spike Lee’s 1996 film, “Girl 6.” She later worked with Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions on screenplays for “Their Eyes Were Watching God” (2005) and the 2007 film, “The Great Debaters.”

Parks wrote a revival of “Porgy and Bess” that opened on Broadway in December 2011, and has written a musical about Ray Charles. Her first novel, Getting Mother’s Body, is set in west Texas and follows the scrappy Beede family as they embark on a riotous road trip in hopes of recovering a fortune of jewels – rumored to be buried with a long-dead relative. She currently is working on her second novel.

In 2001, Parks received one of the MacArthur Foundation’s coveted “Genius Awards,” which provide recipients with $500,000 over five years to pursue their creative, intellectual and professional inclinations with no strings attached. She also has been awarded grants by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the Guggenheim Foundation. Her work is the subject of the PBS film “The Topdog Diaries.”

Parks has taught at the California Institute of the Arts and Yale School of Drama, and she holds honorary doctorates from Brown University and others.

“Once you start becoming familiar with Suzan-Lori’s work and the extraordinary acclaim and attention she has garnered, I think you will be very excited about her visit to Southwestern,” said Lynne Brody, dean of library services.

Several departments at Southwestern have organized events in conjunction with Parks’ visit. The Theatre Department is opening its 2012-2013 season with a performance of several plays from “365 Days/365 Plays.” Performances will be offered Sept. 27-30 in the Jones Theater. For ticket information, visit www.southwestern.edu/boxoffice.

The library has organized an art exhibit titled “Identity, Race, Diversity, Humanity: The Creative Works of Letitia Eldredge” that will be on display in Special Collections from Oct. 11-Nov. 16. Eldredge is an internationally exhibited artist who expresses herself through painting, ceramic art, story-telling, performance art and dance. An opening reception for the exhibit will be held Oct. 11 from 4-6 p.m. in the library.

Tickets for the Nov. 13 lecture are free, but reservations are required. Southwestern students, faculty and staff may reserve tickets beginning Oct. 2 and the general public may begin reserving tickets Oct. 16. Check the library website for details on ticket availability.  

Previous guests in the Writer’s Voice Series have included Tony Kushner, Joyce Carol Oates, Russell Banks, Margaret Atwood, Michael Chabon, Carlos Fuentes, Robert Pinsky, Amy Tan, Azar Nafisi, Tobias Wolff, Mira Nair and Dave Eggers.