Adrienne Lita Hawkins|
September 13, 1931
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Ohio State University (BA)|
|Literary movement||Black Arts Movement|
Kennedy has been contributing to American theater since the early 1960s, influencing generations of playwrights with her haunting, fragmentary lyrical dramas. Exploring the violence racism brings to people's lives, Kennedy's plays express poetic alienation, transcending the particulars of character and plot through ritualistic repetition and radical structural experimentation. Much of her work explores issues of race, kinship, and violence in American society, and many of her plays are "autobiographically inspired."
In 1969, The New York Times critic Clive Barnes wrote, "While almost every black playwright in the country is fundamentally concerned with realism—LeRoi Jones and Ed Bullins at times have something different going but even their symbolism is straightforward stuff—Miss Kennedy is weaving some kind of dramatic fabric of poetry." In 1995, critic Michael Feingold of the Village Voice wrote, "with [Samuel] Beckett gone, Adrienne Kennedy is probably the boldest artist now writing for the theater."
Kennedy is noted for the use of surrealism in her plays, which are often plotless and symbolic, drawing on mythical, historical, and imaginary figures to depict and explore the African-American experience.
Life and career
Adrienne Kennedy was born Adrienne Lita Hawkins on September 13, 1931, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her mother, Etta Hawkins, was a teacher, and her father, Cornell Wallace Hawkins, was a social worker. She spent most of her childhood in Cleveland, Ohio, attending Cleveland public schools. She grew up in an integrated neighborhood and didn’t experience much racism until attending college at Ohio State University. As a child, she spent most of her time reading books like Jane Eyre and The Secret Garden instead of playing games with other children.
She admired actors like Orson Welles and began to focus on theater during her teenage years. The Glass Menagerie was among the first plays she saw produced, inspiring her to explore her passion for playwriting. Her interest in playwriting continued when she started at Ohio State in 1949. She graduated from Ohio State in 1953 with a bachelor's degree in education and continued her studies at Columbia University in 1954–56. She married Joseph Kennedy on May 15, 1953, and the couple had two children, Joseph Jr. and Adam. They divorced in 1966.
Her first play to be produced was Funnyhouse of a Negro, a one-act play she wrote in 1960, the year she visited Ghana for a few months with her husband on his grant from the African Research Foundation. The play draws on Kennedy's African and European heritage as she explores a "black woman's psyche, riven by personal and inherited psychosis, at the root of which is the ambiguously double failure of both rapacious white society and its burdened yet also distorted victims."
A Rat's Mass was produced at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in Manhattan's East Village twice in 1969 and once in 1971. In 1976, La MaMa's Annex performed the show with music by Cecil Taylor. Sun: A Poem for Malcolm X Inspired By His Death and A Beast Story were both produced at La MaMa in 1974.
As of 2018, Kennedy has written thirteen published and five unpublished plays, several autobiographies, a novella, and a short story. Kennedy used the alias Adrienne Cornell for the short story "Because of the King of France", published in Black Orpheus: A Journal of African and Afro-American Literature in 1963. Much of Kennedy's work is based on her lived experience.
Kennedy was a founding member of the Women's Theatre Council in 1971, a member of the board of directors of PEN in 1976–77, and an International Theatre Institute representative in Budapest in 1978.
The Alexander Plays (1992)
Suzanne Alexander is a recurring character in several of Kennedy's plays. She Talks to Beethoven, The Ohio State Murders, The Film Club, and The Dramatic Circle are collectively known as the Alexander Plays, and were published together under that title in 1992. A letter written from Suzanne Alexander's perspective, "Letter to My Students on My Sixty-First Birthday by Suzanne Alexander," was also published in 1992. The Alexander plays are less overtly surreal than many of Kennedy's earlier works, but still avoid linear narrative. In the foreword to the printed collection of plays, Alisa Solomon, professor in the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, wrote"the action of these plays is made up not of the events of Suzanne's life but of the process of turning memory into meaning."
Awards and honors
She won several awards for her plays, including two Village Voice Obie Awards. Her Obie Awards were for "Distinguished Play" in 1964 for Funnyhouse of a Negro and "Best New American Play" in 1996 for June and Jean in Concert and Sleep Deprivation Chamber. She was also honored at the 2008 Obie Awards with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
She was granted a Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Writing in 1967, Rockefeller Foundation grants in 1967 and again in 1970, a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1972, the Creative Artists Public Service grant in 1974, the 2003 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, and the Pierre Lecomte du Novy Award In 1994, she won the Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Writers' Award and an American Academy of Arts and Letters award in Literature. In 2006, Kennedy received the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award as a Master American Dramatist.
Kennedy has taught or lectured at Yale University (1972–74), Princeton University (1977), Brown University (1979–1980), University of California, Berkeley (1986), Harvard University (1991), Stanford University, New York University, and University of California, Davis. In 2003, she was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Literature by her undergraduate alma mater, Ohio State University.
- Funnyhouse of a Negro, 1964
- The Owl Answers, 1965
- A Rat's Mass, 1967
- The Lennon Play: In His Own Write (adapted from John Lennon's In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works with Victor Spinetti), 1967
- A Beast's Story, 1969 (produced with The Owl Answers as Cities in Bezique)
- Boats, 1969
- Sun: A Play for Malcolm X Inspired by His Murder (monologue), 1968
- A Lesson in Dead Language, 1968
- Electra and Orestes (adapted from Euripides' plays), 1972
- An Evening with Dead Essex (one-act documentary drama), 1972
- A Movie Star Has to Star in Black and White, 1976
- A Lancashire Lad (children's musical), 1980
- Black Children's Day (children's play), 1980
- Diary of Lights ("A Musical Without Songs"), 1987
- She Talks to Beethoven (one-act play, later collected as part of The Alexander Plays), 1989
- The Ohio State Murders (one-act play, later collected as part of The Alexander Plays), 1992
- The Film Club (monologue by Suzanne Alexander), 1992
- The Dramatic Circle (radio drama based on The Film Club; published 1994 in Moon Marked and Touched By Sun: Plays by African-American Women, edited by Sydné Mahone), 1992
- Motherhood 2000 (single scene short play), 1994
- June and Jean in Concert (play version of Kennedy's book People Who Led to My Plays), 1995
- Sleep Deprivation Chamber (with son Adam Kennedy), 1996
- Mom, How Did You Meet the Beatles? (with son Adam Kennedy), 2008
- He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box, 2018
- "Because of the King of France", 1960
- People Who Led to My Plays (memoir), 1987
- Deadly Triplets (novella), 1990
- "Letter to My Students on My Sixty-First Birthday by Suzanne Alexander" (essay), 1992
- "Secret Paragraphs about My Brother" (essay), 1996
- "A Letter to Flowers" (essay), 1998
- "Sisters Etta and Ella (excerpt from a narrative)", 1999
- "Grendel Grendel's Mother" (essay), 1999
- "Forget" (poem), 2016
- Peterson, Jane T. and Suzanne Bennett. "Adrienne Kennedy." Women Playwrights of Diversity. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997. 201–205.
- Harry Ransom Center. "Biographical sketch". Adrienne Kennedy: An Inventory of Her Papers at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center. University of Texas at Austin.
- Sollors, Werner. "Introduction", The Adrienne Kennedy Reader, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001, p. vii. ("An introduction to the playwright's work", A.R.T.)
- Barnes, Clive (November 1, 1969). "'A Rat's Mass' Weaves Drama of Poetic Fabric"". The New York Times. p. 39.
- Feingold, Michael. "Blaxpressionism." Village Voice, October 3, 1995, p. 93.
- Wilkerson, Margaret B. "Adrienne Kennedy", in Thadious M. Davis and Trudier Harris (eds), Afro-American Writers after 1955: Dramatists and Prose Writers. Dictionary of Literary Biography vol. 38. Detroit: Gale, 1985, p. 163.
- "Mrs Etta Hawkins 1926 Atlanta University scrapbook (mother of playwright Adrienne Kennedy)". YouTube.
- Andrews, William L., et al. "Adrienne Kennedy", in William L. Andrews, Frances Smith Foster and Trudier Harris (eds), The Oxford Companion to African American Literature, New York: Oxford, 1997. 418–19.
- Sternlicht, Sanford (2002). A Reader's Guide to Modern American Drama (1st ed.). Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press. p. 171. ISBN 0815629397.
- Hilton Als, "Adrienne Kennedy’s Startling Body of Work", The New Yorker, February 12 & 19, 2018.
- Gates, Henry Louis Jr., et al. "Adrienne Kennedy", in Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Valerie A. Smith (eds.), Norton Anthology of African American Literature. 3rd edition. Vol. 2, New York: Norton, 2014, pp. 617–19.
- La MaMa Archives Digital Collections. "Production: A Rat's Mass (1969a)". Accessed June 11, 2018.
- La MaMa Archives Digital Collections. "Production: A Rat's Mass (1969b)". Accessed June 11, 2018.
- La MaMa Archives Digital Collections. "Production: A Rat's Mass (1971)". Accessed June 11, 2018.
- La MaMa Archives Digital Collections. "Production: A Rat's Mass (1976)". Accessed June 11, 2018.
- La MaMa Archives Digital Collections. "Production: Sun: A Poem for Malcolm X Inspired By His Death (1974)". Accessed June 11, 2018.
- La MaMa Archives Digital Collections. "Production: Beast Story, A (1974)". Accessed June 11, 2018.
- Wetmore, Jr., Kevin J., "Adrienne Kennedy and Greek Tragedy", in Black Dionysus: Greek Tragedy and African American Theatre, McFarland & Company, 2003, p. 88.
- Lovalerie King (2002). "African American Literature Adrienne Kennedy". The Concise Oxford Companion to African American Literature. Oxford University Press. Retrieved November 23, 2013.
- Solomon, Alisa. "Foreword", The Alexander Plays. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992, p. xvi. ISBN 978-0816620777.
- "64 | Obie Awards". Obie Awards.
- "96 | Obie Awards". Obie Awards.
- "08 | Obie Awards". Obie Awards. Retrieved February 18, 2017.
- "Adrienne Kennedy: 2003 Lifetime Achievement", Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards.
- Wilkerson, Margaret B. "Adrienne Kennedy", in Thadious M. Davis and Trudier Harris (eds), Afro-American Writers after 1955: Dramatists and Prose Writers. Dictionary of Literary Biography vol 38. Detroit: Gale, 1985, p. 168.
- "Ohio State honors six at spring 2003 commencement" Archived April 24, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University, News and Information, June 5, 2003.
- "Our Grantees". The Wallace Foundation. Retrieved February 18, 2017.
- "Awards – American Academy of Arts and Letters". artsandletters.org. Retrieved February 18, 2017.
- "Signature Theatre – Adrienne Kennedy (Legacy Program)". www.signaturetheatre.org. Retrieved February 18, 2017.
- Turner, Beth (2008). "Adrienne Kennedy (13 September 1931–)". Dictionary of Literary Biography. Twentieth-Century American Dramatists: Fifth Series. 341. Gale. p. 88.
- Soloski, Alexis (2018). "Adrienne Kennedy, Playwright: Still Quiet, Still Bold, Still Furious". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 28, 2018.
- "Harvard Review 49". www.harvardreview.org. August 2016. Retrieved January 28, 2018.
- Adrienne Kennedy Papers, Harry Ransom Center
- Kennedy's page on La MaMa Archives Digital Collections
- Adrienne Kennedy profile, doollee.com (subscription required)
- Archived profile of Adrienne Kennedy
- Ryan Spahn, "Spawned From Deep Experience: Corresponding With Adrienne Kennedy, Juilliard Journal, February 2013
- Alexis Soloski, "Adrienne Kennedy, Playwright: Still Quiet, Still Bold, Still Furious", The New York Times, January 10, 2018
- Hilton Als, "Adrienne Kennedy’s Startling Body of Work", The New Yorker, February 12 & 19, 2018