Part of our Black History Month Series
Suzan-Lori Parks is known for many things: her audacity, her complications, her linguistic near-absurdities. Above everything, however, I'd like to commend her for writing works that are meant to be performed.
When reading a piece by Parks, it is often hard to hear the dialect and rhythm. After seeing her work performed, however, I've gained a much better appreciation for the visions that she transmits on paper with trust that other artists will portray her work faithfully on stage. As a playwright, it's not easy to take huge leaps and trust that whomever gets their hands on your script. Parks seems to trust us all.
Parks writes theatre that could be said to be avante-garde. Her pieces have premiered in theatres and schools across the country with her most notable, Pulitzer-prize winning piece, Topdog/Underdog, premiering on Broadway in 2002.
Her works are incredibly contemporary and yet they find a way to revolve around historic issues for the African American population. For example, her 1996 piece entitled Venus depicts the true story of a woman who becomes a spectacle because of the abnormal size of her posterior. The show comments on the construction of African American identity and the stereotypes that abound and plague African American women. The construction of the play is amazing. Metaphor runs at every corner and the language is incredibly tricky, if not completely allusive. However, the show draws strength from its absurdities and makes for an incredible masterpiece on stage.
The great thing about Parks is that, and perhaps because of the absurd nature of her writing structure, her works are never preachy. Instead, they are just incredibly interesting and insightful.
Her dedication to performance and writing is clear from projects including 365 Days-365 Plays wherein she has written one play for each day of the year. She also tours with lecture and performance circuits. Her dedication to the stage and to performance has contributed to the regeneration of African American theatre.
We thank her and we look forward to finding more of her work.
Don't Miss This Taped Performance of Pulitzer Prize Winning Topdog/Underdog!