Celebrated playwright to deliver commencement address

Friday, April 22, 2011

Suzan-Lori Parks will deliver May 7, 2011 address to graduates

The University of Tulsa has announced that celebrated playwright Suzan-Lori Parks will serve as the keynote speaker for its spring commencement ceremony to be held May 7, 2011, at the Donald W. Reynolds Center.

Named one of Time magazine’s “100 Innovators for the Next New Wave,” Parks is recognized as one of the most exciting and acclaimed playwrights in American drama today. Her talks are part performance, part storytelling — always with high energy and an inspired sense of humor.

Suzan Lori-ParksParks is the first African American woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize in Drama for the Broadway hit Topdog/Underdog and is a MacArthur “Genius” Award recipient. She has also been awarded grants by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts. She has received a Lila-Wallace Reader’s Digest Award, a CalArts/Alpert Award in the Arts (Drama) for 1996, a Guggenheim Foundation Grant and is an alumna of New Dramatists.

Her work is the subject of the PBS film, The Topdog Diaries. In 2007, her project 365 Plays/365 Days was produced in over 700 theaters worldwide, creating one of the largest grassroots collaborations in theater history. Her plays include Topdog/Underdog, The Book of Grace, In the Blood (2000 Pulitzer Prize finalist), Venus (1996 OBIE Award), The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World, The Wars, Part 1: The Union of My Confederate Parts, Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom (1990 OBIE Award for Best New American Play), and The America Play.

Parks has a leading acting role in The Making of Plus One, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. She’s written screenplays for Brad Pitt, Denzel Washington, including Girl 6 written for Spike Lee, and adapted Zora Neale Hurston’s classic novel Their Eyes Were Watching God that premiered on ABC’s Oprah Winfrey Presents.

Parks’s well-reviewed first novel, Getting Mother’s Body (Random House, 2003), is set in the west Texas of her youth 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. Her Ray Charles musical, Unchain My Heart, is scheduled to premiere on Broadway within the coming year; and this fall her revival of Porgy and Bess will premiere at Boston’s American Repertory Theatre.

Currently performing her experimental solo show, Watch Me Work, Parks teaches at NYU, serves the Public Theatre as their Master Writer Chair and is at work on her second novel. Having also taught at California Institute of the Arts and Yale School of Drama and holding honorary doctorates from Brown University, among others, Suzan-Lori credits her writing teacher and mentor, James Baldwin, for starting her on the path of playwriting.  One of the first to recognize Parks’ writing skills, Mr. Baldwin declared Parks “an astonishing and beautiful creature who may become one of the most valuable artists of our time.”          

David Hamby