Adrienne Kennedy departs from the theatrical naturalism used by other African American playwrights in favor of a surrealistic and expressionistic form. Her plays capture the irrational quality of dreams while offering insight into the nature of the self and being. Most of her works are complex character studies in which a given figure may have several selves or roles. In this multidimensional presentation lies Kennedy’s forte—the unraveling of the individual consciousness.
The playwright received an Obie Award in 1964 for Funnyhouse of a Negro, her best-known play, and two Obies in 1996 for June and Jean in Concert and Sleep Deprivation Chamber. She held a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1967 and was given grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, the New England Theatre Conference, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Creative Artists Public Service. She also received the Third Manhattan Borough President’s Award for Excellence, an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund Writer’s Award, the Pierre LeComte duNoy Foundation award, and the American Book Award in 1990 for People Who Led to My Plays. Kennedy is included in The Norton Anthology of African American Literature and is one of a select few playwrights in the third edition of The Norton Anthology of American Literature. The Signature Theatre Company in New York dedicated its 1995-1996 season to Kennedy, offering audiences a retrospective of her dramatic works.
She was a lecturer at Yale University from 1972 to 1974 and a Yale Fellow from 1974 to 1975. In addition to lecturing at Yale, Kennedy has taught playwriting at Princeton and Brown universities.