Paula Vogel's play How I Learned to Drive opened in New York in February 1997. The play concerns an affair between its protagonist, named Li'l Bit, and her uncle Peck. The affair takes place over the course of years, with the character of Li'l Bit maturing from age eleven to eighteen before she puts an end to it. In spite of the serious situation, there are many comical elements of the play, which avoids the expected condemnation of this situation to look at the basic humanity that binds these two characters. It uses innovative staging techniques to fade from one time frame to another and one place to the next. It also uses just three actors, in addition to those playing Li'l Bit and Peck, to represent all of the other characters who affect their lives, especially their quirky, intimidating rural Maryland family. The addition of popular music from the early-and late-1960s, such as "Dream Baby" and "Little Surfer Girl," helps audiences understand the prevailing mood of the era that Vogel covers in this play: it is romantic and sexist, emphasizing youth and fun, the sort of social message that would make a girl like Li'l Bit, who has many feelings of insecurity, turn to a flawed relationship where she can bask in the reverence of an older man.
How I Learned to Drive is noteworthy for the many awards that it won, including the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for drama. Its initial off-Broadway run lasted for fourteen months. In addition to the Pulitzer, the play also was awarded an Obie, a Drama Desk Award, a New York Drama Critics' Award, an Outer Circle Critics Award, and the Lucille Lortel Award.