She listens to the Spirit and contemplates the characters, phrases or lines that come to her. She searches, but she does not analyze. She is smart, and her writing is sophisticated, but the story just comes to her fully formed. Words take on double meanings. History becomes his story. The character of Hero is misplaced. He leaves not just his home behind, but also his identity. It is lyrical and formal, yet it includes surprising colloquialisms and moments of slang.
Of course, the names also have meaning. Another slave is Homer, after the poet. And the master is simply known as the Colonel, putting him in the same league with the nameless refugees simply known as The Runaway Slaves.
I was 6 years old, and I was grooving to her name. Penny Lincoln was a poem to me. She is less interested in analyzing her character name choices than in wondering about their origins. It just came to her.
AMERICAN THEATRE | The Possession of Suzan-Lori Parks
That was heaven-sent. The unique spelling of her own name, Suzan-Lori, was the result of a typo.
A printer misspelled her given name, Susan-Lori, on the posters for one of her earlier plays, and she just went with it. Roll with it. Join the tradition of stone rollers or people who carry rocks in their pockets. Virginia Woolf. She was always fascinated with writing, and she first realized she was a playwright when she was taking an seminar with James Baldwin as an undergraduate at Mount Holyoke College.
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She describes herself as a physical writer, all about movement, and during conversation, she gestures and moves her body in time with her words. Baldwin noticed that and suggested she write for the stage. She also is influenced by Gertrude Stein, Samuel Beckett, James Joyce and William Faulkner, and her plays are multilayered with references to history and literature that reveal the width and breadth of her knowledge.
But her ethic is simple: Put in the work. That is constant.
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Showing up. That is it. And she practices what she preaches. On Nov. Bonney, her director, says it seems like the writing is effortless when she reads it, but she knows it is not. She is drawing from a great world of knowledge. She can put Greek references next to Civil War period references and pop cultural references.
That is just her knowledge of the world. With Father , that journey was not complete until the trilogy was already in rehearsal last fall. Tickets were sold. Press releases had gone out. She suddenly knew that she had to change the ending, which originally wrapped up with one character dead and another doomed to a life paralyzed by guilt. But I woke up, and there it was. All along, she had been looking for a way to liberate her Hero, and she finally found it during the darkness of night.
I have ideas about it now, but those thoughts were not involved in the creation of it. It is important that writers understand my process and understand that all I knew was that I had to free Hero. I am not an intellectual writer. I am a physical writer. It goes through my feet, circles around in the little roundabout of my heart, and then it spouts.
In rehearsal, she ran her new ending by director Bonney and Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis. It allowed her to follow it to a natural end. Most of the lines were already in place, but with slight tweaks, the entire conclusion of the play changed. Parks made the changes instantly. It was the culmination of the process of working on it over all that time. She wanted to give the characters hope. Parks knew at that moment that her journey had reached the right place, at least for this part of her opus, which she plans as a nine-part drama.
The next six parts will move forward in time, depicting the descendants of her characters as they live through Reconstruction, the Civil Rights era and contemporary times. Seeing me standing here but thinking me dead.
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Like Hero had kicked that dog. And then the dog run off. Cause of the bond Hero and Odd-See got between them. Listen up: Penny, she comes out the door And when Hero said the dog had run off she got worrisome. Then, Hero and Homer together, they headed on up to the house. And Penny, left alone, she fell on her knees and prayed a quiet prayer: For Odd-See to come back. She walked off, went looking for the dog.
I followed her but I followed slow. Got tired, headed back, here I am. For many years, she was a staff arts reporter and cultural critic for the Boston Globe , and she continues to cover theater for the paper.
Repetition & Revision in Suzan-Lori Park’s History Plays and Topdog/Underdog
The question of destiny and fate returns, begging whether their relationship as brothers assures they must fight each other for status and favor. The play presented contemporary America from the point of view of two brothers at the mercy of their circumstances, men who believe that our culture is made up of hustlers and victims, that all human interaction can be reduced to a con and that he who tells the story decides how it ends. Could the play be suggesting that American history is the biggest con of all? The character of Lincoln in the play — whose job is to be repeatedly shot in an Abraham Lincoln assassination reenactment in a shabby arcade — understands the futility of questioning deeply held beliefs about American history.
Suzan-Lori Parks: Essays on the Plays and Other Works
Neatly like a book. But there are many ways to unfold the past. History depends on point of view and has, by and large, been told from the perspective of the victor, the one who ends up on top, though there are millions of stories from the points of view of everyone else.
American history is just beginning to acknowledge the experiences of a wider range of races, classes, economic statuses and educations to create a more complete vision of the past. In recent generations, writers, historians and artists have added to the conversation by stretching what was once a narrow account of history to include new perspectives. Parks is one of the artists putting forth a new definition of history. For example, she challenges the notion of Abraham Lincoln as a venerated, yet untouchable individual in history.