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 and screenwriter. She started her career in the 1980's after graduating in 1985 from Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts as a member of Phi Beta Kappa. As a student earning her Undergraduate degree, she studied under James Baldwin who encouraged her image of becoming a playwright. Suzan-Lori Parks continued her research in London at the Drama Studio, pursuing her passion.[1]

Since completing 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.[1]


Early years[edit]

Parks was born in Fort Knox, Kentucky into a military family. She spent part of her childhood in West 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."[2]

She eventually returned to the United States and graduated from The John Carroll School in 1981.[3] She later attended and graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 1985 with a B.A. in English and German literature (cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa) and later spent a year studying acting at Drama Studio London.[4]

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.[5]


Parks credits the impact of Mount Holyoke on her career later in life.[6] While she was an undergraduate, her Mount Holyoke English professor Mary McHenry introduced Parks to Five Colleges faculty member James Baldwin.[7] Parks began to take classes with Baldwin and, at his behest, began to write plays.[7] 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.[6] Parks also credited another Mount Holyoke professor, Leah Blatt Glasser, with her success.[8]

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 (2005) and the 2007 film, The Great Debaters (with Robert Eisele).[9][10]

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 2000, Parks received the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award for a playwright in mid-career.

Her 2001 play, Topdog/Underdog (a play about family identity, fraternal interdependence, and the struggles of everyday African-American life), won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2002.[11]

In October 2014, The Public Theater presented the world premiere of Father Comes Home From The Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3), written by Parks and directed by Jo Bonney. The cast featured Sterling K. Brown, Louis Cancelmi, Peter Jay Fernandez, Jeremie Harris, Russell G. Jones, Jenny Jules, Ken Marks, Jacob Ming-Trent, Tonye Patano and Julian Rozzell Jr. The play was a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize, Drama.[12] Parks won the 2015 Obie Award for Playwriting.[13]

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

Personal life[edit]

Parks is married to blues musician Paul Oscher.[14]






  • 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"


  1. ^ a b "Suzan-Lori Parks Biography". Retrieved July 30, 2015. 
  2. ^ Suzan-Lori Parks (Archived from Jan 2010)
  3. ^ "Connections" (PDF). John Carroll School. Spring 2007. p. 4. 
  4. ^ "Suzan-Lori Parks '85 Took Her Cue from Five College Professor James Baldwin". Mount Holyoke College. 
  5. ^ "A moment with Suzan-Lori Parks, playwright", The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 26, 2003.
  6. ^ a b "Suzan-Lori Parks '85 Wins Pulitzer Prize for Drama". College Street Journal. April 12, 2002. 
  7. ^ a b "Suzan-Lori Parks Interview". Academy of Achievement. June 22, 2007. 
  8. ^ "In the News: Traditions and communications". College Street Journal. May 24, 1996. 
  9. ^ 'Debaters' makes its case
  10. ^ Harris, Dana and Brodesser, Claude (2004). "Back-to-back helming: Washington to take 2 gigs," Variety September 29, 2004. Retrieved December 16, 2007.
  11. ^ "Pulitzer Prize, Drama", accessed April 21, 2015
  12. ^ "Finalists, 2015", accessed April 21, 2015
  13. ^ Hetrick, Adam. "Obie Winners Announced! 'Hamilton' Is Best New American Theatre Work",, May 18, 2015
  14. ^ Suzan-Lori Parks and Paul Oscher


External links[edit]