SUZAN-LORI PARKS (1963-) is a playwright and screenwriter. In 2002, she became the first black woman in 85 years to win a Pulitzer Prize in a drama category for her play, Topdog/Underdog.
Born May 10, 1963, in Fort Knox, Kentucky, into a military family, Parks spent part of her childhood in Germany and “attended German high school instead of the English speaking school for military children”. The experience, in addition to teaching her the fundamentals of language, showed Parks what it feels like to be neither white nor black, but simply foreign.
She returned to the United States and graduated from The John Carroll School in 1981. She then attended Mount Holyoke College and graduated cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1985 with a B.A. in English and German literature.
While an undergraduate, her English professor introduced Parks to Five Colleges faculty member James Baldwin. Parks began to take classes with Baldwin and, at his request, began to write plays. Parks’ first screenplay was for Spike Lee‘s 1996 film, Girl 6. She later worked in conjunction with Oprah Winfrey‘s Harpo Productions on screenplays for Their Eyes Were Watching God and The Great Debaters.
Parks’ plays include Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom, The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World, The America Play (the opening scene of which inspired Topdog/Underdog), Venus (about Saartjie Baartman), In the Blood and Fucking A (which are both a retelling of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 novel The Scarlet Letter).
In 2001, Parks received the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant, and Top Dog/Underdog opened in New York starring Jeffrey Wright as Lincoln and Don Cheadle as Booth. It tells the story of two brothers named Lincoln and Booth, one a card shark and Abe Lincoln impersonator, the other, a student of the three-card-Monty con game, and deals with the painful memories of the two brothers. Critical acclaim and excellent box office receipts moved the play to Broadway in 2002. With Mos Def filling the role of Booth, the play remained a success and won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. When asked about her inspiration for writing Topdog/Underdog, Parks says: “It chose me. I wasn’t planning or plotting or scheming…”
Parks is currently creating a screenplay of Toni Morrison’s Paradise, writing a stage musical called “Hoopz”, working as a director at the California Institute of the Arts and enjoying the success of her first novel, Getting Mother’s Body. Suzan-Lori Parks lives in Venice Beach, California, with her husband, blues musician Paul Oscher.
SUZAN ON HBO’S ‘THE BLACK LIST’
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