Suzan-Lori Parks was honored at the Steinberg Distinguished Playwright Awards this past Monday, December 3rd at the Lincoln Center Theater. The award is presented biennially to one playwright who has contributed significantly to the American theatre. Parks received a cash prize of $200,000, an incentive to consistently and continually create new work for the development of theatre.
Suzan-Lori is known for work such as Topdog/Underdog, Fucking A, The Death of The Last Black Man in The Whole Entire World aka The Negro Book of The Dead, Father Comes Home From The Wars (parts 1, 2 &3), In The Blood, 265 Days/365 Plays, The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, just to name a few. She was the first black woman playwright to receive the Pulitzer Prize for her play, Topdog/Underdog, has received the MacArthur Genius Award as well as being named one of Time magazine’s “100 Innovators for the Next New Wave.”
The charismatic and wildly funny playwright is loved by colleagues and friends alike. “She is someone I was studying long and hard with in school and sometimes I have to pinch myself when I realize I can count her among my colleagues. This is an overdue honor for her. Her mark is huge,” says Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, who received the Steinberg several years prior. “This award changed my life in a lot of ways so I feel very indebted to it and honored to be part of a family.” Branden would go on to write his Pulitzer prize-winning plays Everybody and Gloria. “She’s such a model for not just how to live your life and career in front of a laptop – she does everything and that kind of adventurousness is inspiring. You don’t see that every day.”
Actress, Roslyn Ruff, another colleague of Suzan-Lori’s also made an appearance at the Steinberg Awards. One of her first acting jobs out of school was in Suzan-Lori’s In The Blood. “It is one of my favorite theatrical experiences,” she says. And after going on to work with Suzan-Lori again in The Last Black Man in The Whole Entire World, Ruff is speechless. “It is any actor’s dream to work with Suzan-Lori. Her work speaks to me on such a deep level.”
The night commenced with a celebration of Suzan-Lori’s work. The playwright welcomed us into her world with Christian Konopka in a performance of “Bronze Star,” a song from her play Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3). Actors Amari Cheatom, Brandon J. Dirden, Crystal Dickinson and Roslyn Ruff performed excerpts from plays Father Comes Home from The Wars (parts 1, 2 &3), Topdog/Underdog, Getting Mother’s Body, The Book of Grace, and a special sneak peak at her new play premiering in 2019, White Noise.
“It’s thrilling. It feels great,” Suzan-Lori says, giggling. “The best part about it is that I get to see friends that I have not seen in years. I get to see actors that I work with who I only get to see when I’m doing a show or theatre scholars and academics.” The artist was swarmed by old friends and scholars the entire evening, all excited to honor her and her inspiring spirit that has graced American theatre for almost two decades. “Showing up,” she says, has been the key to her success. “The first award that I got as a child was perfect attendance. To this day, that’s my jam. When the writing is not going well I ask myself, ‘Am I showing up?’ And usually the answer is ‘no.’ So I gotta create a ‘yes’ out of that. Keep showing up. You have to put the time in.”
In the words of actress Crystal Dickinson and in the spirit of the Steinberg Award, “I just don’t think theatre is ever gonna die. We’re never gonna be out of a job because it’s job that can’t be replaced by a robot. It’s a human job. I don’t think that we could survive without art. I’m excited to see how it will change and how it will evolve. And Suzan-Lori is helping us do that.”
Suzan-Lori Parks’ new play, White Noise, begins previews on March 5th, 2019.