Suzan-Lori Parks

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Suzan-Lori Parks
Born Susan-Lori Parks
(1963-05-10) May 10, 1963 (age 52)
Fort Knox, Kentucky, United States
Occupation Playwright, screenwriter
Nationality United States
Spouse Paul Oscher (2001-present)
Magnum opus Topdog/Underdog
Awards Pulitzer Prize for Drama (2002)

Suzan-Lori Parks (born May 10, 1963) is an American playwright, screenwriter and novelist. Her 2001 play Topdog/Underdog won her the Pulitzer Prize in 2002; Parks is the first African American woman to achieve this honor.[1]

Early life and academics[edit]

Early life[edit]

Parks was born in Fort Knox, Kentucky on May 10, 1963; she grew up with two siblings in a military family. Parks enjoyed writing poems and songs and even created a newspaper with her brother, called the "Daily Daily".[2] In 1974 her father, a career officer in the United States Army, was stationed in West Germany where she attended middle school and attended German high school.[2] The experience showed her "what it feels like to be neither white nor black, but simply foreign".[2][3] After returning to the United States Parks lived and attended school in six states, including Vermont.[2] She graduated high school at The John Carroll School in 1981 while her father was stationed in Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. [4] [5]


Parks attended and graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 1985 with a B.A. in English and German literature while a member of Phi Beta Kappa. She studied under James Baldwin, who encouraged her to become a playwright. James Baldwin describes Parks during this time as, "an utterly astounding and beautiful creature who may become one of the most valuable artists of our time." [5] Suzan-Lori Parks continued studying a year in acting at Drama Studio London in order to better understand the stage.[6][7][8]


Parks credits the impact of Mount Holyoke on her career later in life.[9] Since acting at the Drama Studio, Suzan-Lori Parks has received 11 awards, being the first female African-American to receive the Pulitzer Prize for her play Topdog/Underdog in 2002. She has also received a number of grants including the MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Grant in 2001, the same year as the production of her play "Topdog/Underdog".[5]

While she was an undergraduate, her Mount Holyoke English professor Mary McHenry introduced Parks to James Baldwin.[10] Parks began to take classes with Baldwin and, at his behest, began to write plays.[10] Parks also noted that she was inspired by Wendy Wasserstein, a 1971 Mount Holyoke graduate who won the Pulitzer in 1989 for her play The Heidi Chronicles.[9] Parks also credited another Mount Holyoke professor, Leah Blatt Glasser, with her success.[11]

Parks' first screenplay was for Spike Lee's 1996 film Girl 6. She later worked with Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Productions on screenplays for Their Eyes Were Watching God (2005) and The Great Debaters (2007).[12][13]






  • Parks, Suzan-Lori (2003). Getting Mother's Body: A Novel (First ed.). New York: Random House. ISBN 1-4000-6022-2. 

Awards and nominations[edit]

  • 2000 Pulitzer Prize Drama Finalist – In The Blood
  • 2002 Drama Desk Award Outstanding New Play – Topdog/Underdog
  • 2002 Tony Award for Best Play – Topdog/Underdog
  • 2015 Pulitzer Prize Drama Finalist - "Father Comes Home From the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3"

Personal life[edit]

Parks is married to blues musician Paul Oscher.[15]

Parks noted in an interview that her name is spelled with a "Z" as the result of a misprint early in her career:

When I was doing one of my first plays in the East Village, we had fliers printed up and they spelled my name wrong. I was devastated. But the director said, 'Just keep it, honey, and it will be fine.' And it was.[16]

She teaches playwriting at Tisch School of the Arts in the Rita & Burton Goldberg Department of Dramatic Writing.


  1. ^ "Suzan-Lori Parks Biography". Retrieved July 30, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Suzan-Lori Parks Biography". Academy of Achievement A Museum of Living History. Academy of Achievement. November 11, 2013. Retrieved August 3, 2015. 
  3. ^ Suzan-Lori Parks (Archived from Jan 2010)
  4. ^ "Connections" (PDF). John Carroll School. Spring 2007. p. 4. 
  5. ^ a b c "Biography Page for Suzan-Lori Parks". The History Makers. The History Makers. November 21, 2006. Retrieved August 5, 2015. 
  6. ^ Als, Hilton (October 30, 2006). "The Show-Woman". The New Yorker. Retrieved January 28, 2016. 
  7. ^ "Suzan-Lori Parks Biography". Retrieved 14 August 2015. 
  8. ^ "Suzan-Lori Parks '85 Took Her Cue from Five College Professor James Baldwin". Mount Holyoke College. Archived from the original on July 13, 2010. Retrieved August 13, 2015. 
  9. ^ a b "Suzan-Lori Parks '85 Wins Pulitzer Prize for Drama". College Street Journal. April 12, 2002. 
  10. ^ a b "Suzan-Lori Parks Interview". Academy of Achievement. June 22, 2007. 
  11. ^ "In the News: Traditions and communications". College Street Journal. May 24, 1996. 
  12. ^ 'Debaters' makes its case
  13. ^ Harris, Dana and Brodesser, Claude (2004). "Back-to-back helming: Washington to take 2 gigs," Variety September 29, 2004. Retrieved December 16, 2007.
  14. ^ Piepenburg, Erik (14 October 2015). "Suzan-Lori Parks Is Awarded the Gish Prize". New York Times. Retrieved 14 October 2015. 
  15. ^ Suzan-Lori Parks and Paul Oscher
  16. ^ "A moment with Suzan-Lori Parks, playwright", The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 26, 2003.


External links[edit]