Background and education
Edson was born in Washington, D.C., the second child of Peter Edson, a newspaper columnist, and Joyce Winifred Edson, a medical social worker. Like the protagonist in Wit, Edson is well acquainted with academia. A graduate of Sidwell Friends School, a Quaker-run private school in Washington, where she had been active in the drama program, Edson enrolled at Smith College in Massachusetts in 1979, earning a degree in Renaissance history in 1983. After graduation, Edson moved to Iowa City, Iowa, where her sister lived, and took a job selling hot dogs during the day and tending bar at night.
She returned to her hometown of Washington, D.C., and acquired a job as unit clerk in the AIDS and cancer treatment wing of a research hospital. Subsequently she moved to the St. Francis Center (now the Wendt Center for Loss and Healing), where she worked on producing grant proposals. At this point, Edson decided to pursue a doctorate in literature, but first wished to write a play. Edson worked at a bicycle store in Washington and spent the summer of 1991 writing the first draft of Wit.
She enrolled in the graduate program in English at Georgetown University in the fall of 1991. While in graduate school, Edson volunteered in a D.C. elementary school. After she earned her master's degree, she decided to become an elementary school teacher and was admitted an alternative certification program with the D.C. Public Schools. She taught English as a Second Language and first grade in D.C. Public Schools for six years.
Meanwhile, she sent the text of Wit to sixty theaters across the country. It was finally accepted in 1995 by the South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, California. The artistic team at South Coast Repertory worked with Edson to condense her two-act play into one long, emotionally draining act; the revised Wit enjoyed a successful run and won several Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards.
Despite Wit's success at SCR, other theater companies were reluctant to produce the play. In 1997, the young director Derek Anson Jones was chosen by the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut, to create a new production of the play. Wit opened on the East Coast in October 1997, earning strong word-of-mouth reviews before winning three Connecticut Critics Circle Awards, including best play. Championed by its lead actress, Kathleen Chalfant, the play secured a spot with the Manhattan Class Company in New York City before premiering to a flurry of positive reviews at the Union Square Theatre in January 1999. Still under Jones's direction, the play won awards from the New York Drama Critics' Circle, Drama Desk, Drama League, Dramatists Guild of America and Outer Critics Circle. Edson was presented with the John Gassner and George Oppenheimer playwriting awards, as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
The play ran for 18 months Off-Broadway at the Union Square Theatre. Judith Light replaced Chalfant in the leading role and the two actress shared the national tour in 2000. Since then, it has received hundreds of productions in dozens of languages.
HBO secured the film rights to the play and engaged Mike Nichols to direct and Emma Thompson to star. Nichols and Thompson collaborated on the screenplay. The production won the Emmy Award for Best Film in 2001.
The play was published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux in 1999.
In 2012, the Manhattan Theater Company produced a revival of the play on Broadway. Lynn Meadow directed and Cynthia Nixon played Professor Bearing.
Edson has continued teaching with no plans to write another play. Currently, she teaches 6th grade social studies at Inman Middle School in the Virginia-Highland neighborhood of Atlanta, Georgia. She also taught at John Hope Elementary school in Atlanta, Georgia. She has given many public lectures including the 2008 commencement address at Smith College.
She lives in Atlanta with her long-time partner, art historian Linda Merrill, and their two sons, Timothy Edson Merrill and Peter Edson Merrill.
- McGrath, Charles (16 February 2012). "Changing Gears but Retaining Dramatic Effect". New York Times. Retrieved 17 February 2012.
- Margaret Edson at the Internet Broadway Database
- Margaret Edson at the Internet Movie Database
- Margaret Edson at the Internet Off-Broadway Database
- Transcript from Edson's April 14, 1999 appearance on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer
- New Georgia Encyclopedia
- Video of Edson's commencement address at Smith College
- Video of Edson's interview with Lynn Meadow on Theater Talk, Feb. 2012