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Pulitzer-winning dramatist honored

Playwright Suzan Lori-Parks will visit MIT.
Playwright Suzan Lori-Parks will visit MIT.
Photo / Stephanie Diani

Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist Suzan-Lori Parks will receive the 2006-2007 Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts on Oct. 27 at MIT.

She will hold a reading and discuss her work on Oct. 26, at 7 p.m. in Room 10-250.

The MIT Council for the Arts presents the McDermott Award annually to an artist recognized for excellence and innovation in his/her field.

An American playwright and screenwriter, Parks received a MacArthur Foundation "genius" award in 2001 and a Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2002 for "Topdog/Underdog," a play about family identity, fraternal interdependence and the struggles of everyday African-American life.

She will be presented with the $70,000 McDermott Award at the annual meeting of the MIT Council for the Arts at the MIT Museum. The award, established in 1974, honors Eugene McDermott, founder of Texas Instruments and longtime friend and benefactor to MIT.

In conjunction with the McDermott Award, she will return to MIT in the spring as an artist-in-residence, working with students and faculty and making a public presentation.

Parks was born in 1964 in Fort Knox, Ky., and went to high school in West Germany. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Mount Holyoke College in 1985 with a B.A. in English and German literature. While in college, Parks took a writing class with novelist James Baldwin, who called her "an utterly astounding and beautiful creature who may become one of the most valuable artists of our time." At his behest, she began to write plays.

Her play, "Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom" won the 1989-1990 Obie Award for Best New American Play. A later play, "Venus," about a woman from Africa who is exhibited as a sideshow attraction in 19th-century Europe, won the 1995-1996 Obie Award for Playwriting.

"I like my audiences to think for themselves," she said in a December 2005 interview for the Syracuse Post Standard. "This is America, after all. It's a free country, for the next 10 minutes. I enjoy hearing what my audiences think. That's the whole joy of art."

Parks' plays include "The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World," "The America Play" (the opening scene of which inspired "Topdog/Underdog"), and "In the Blood" (2000 Pulitzer Prize nominee), a retelling of Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1850 novel, "The Scarlet


The first African-American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for drama, Parks wrote her first screenplay for "Girl 6," a 1996 film directed by Spike Lee. She later wrote the teleplay for the 2005 film, "Their Eyes Were Watching God," based on the novel by Zora Neale Hurston, and co-wrote the film "The Great Debaters."

Her other awards include the Whiting Writers' Award in 1992 and the Guggenheim Fellowship for playwriting in 2000.

Parks' Oct. 26 presentation at MIT is sponsored by MIT's Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies and the Angus N. McDonald Fund, with additional support from the MIT literature section, Program in Women's Studies, Office of the Associate Provost, Campus Committee on Race Relations, theater arts section, the DeFlorez Fund and the Council for the Arts at MIT.

For more information, call x3-7894.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 18, 2006 (download PDF).

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