Margaret Edson Biography

Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Margaret Ann Edson was born on the Fourth of July, 1961, in Washington, D.C. Her father was a newspaper columnist, and her mother was a medical social worker. Edson attended Washington, D.C., schools before studying history at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she graduated magna cum laude in 1983. Her jobs after college included work as unit clerk in the cancer and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) wards of a teaching hospital from 1984 to 1986, a low-level position that would ultimately have a profound impact on her thinking and her writing career. After a hiatus of several years, she attended Georgetown University, where she earned an M.A. degree in literature in 1992.

In 1991, while working in a bicycle shop, Edson began writing a play based on her experiences in the hospital. She eventually titled this play Wit, though the title is often spelled W;t, a reference to the work’s playful obsession with the details of language, including punctuation. The play centers on Vivian Bearing, a professor and scholar of the fiercely intellectual and devoutly spiritual holy sonnets of the seventeenth century English poet John Donne. Bearing has succeeded at the highest level in her academic pursuits, but she finds herself unprepared to deal with her final challenge, a diagnosis of terminal ovarian cancer. Edson sent her play to theater companies across the United States, and it was first performed in 1995 by the South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, California. After winning numerous 1996 Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards, Wit attracted the attention of the East Coast...

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Margaret Edson Biography (Drama for Students)

Margaret Edson Published by Gale Cengage

Margaret Edson, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Wit, was born in Washington, D.C., on July 4, 1961. Her mother, a medical social worker, and her father, a newspaper columnist, both encouraged Edson's leanings toward drama, which she pursued throughout high school.

Edson went to Smith College, where she majored in Renaissance history and graduated magna cum laude. Undecided about a career, Edson decided to travel for a few years. She first went to Iowa City and sold hotdogs during the day and waited tables at a bar at night. Her next stop was Rome, where she spent a year painting the walls of a contemplative, French Dominican convent. Upon returning to Washington, D.C, Edson sold ice cream.

In 1985, Edson became a clerk on a cancer and AIDS ward at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. In an article by Susan Lowell Butler in USA Today, Edson says, "I learned so much there. The nurses really wanted me to help make things run smoothly, so they taught me a lot.… I observed the people there, the patients and families, coping with cancer. I learned about character and about courage." She worked at the hospital for only one year, but the memories were to linger, ultimately compelling her to write the play Wit.

After leaving the hospital, Edson took on various other positions, including a job at a bike shop. It was during this time, the summer of 1991, that Edson wrote her play. She then sent the play out to every theater in the country, Edson says, and they all rejected it, except for the South Coast Repertory in
Costa Mesa, California, After several edits, the play celebrated its world premiere in California in 1995.

In the meantime, Edson entered Georgetown University, eventually earning a master's degree in literature. At first she thought she would go on to earn a doctorate in literature and eventually pursue an academic career. But while in graduate school, Edson worked in the District of Columbia's public school system as a volunteer teacher, and it was here that she found her passion.

In the Madison Repertory Theatre's Audience Guide, there is a little side story about Edson that states, "By the time she came to write her thesis [for her master's degree], she knew academe was not for her. Her thesis project, on the use of poetry to teach reading, concluded with an oral defense in which Edson performed a Queen Latifa rap number before her faculty review panel." Today Edson is a kindergarten teacher at Centennial Place Elementary School in Atlanta, Georgia, where she uses music and poetry to teach children to read.

Margaret Edson Bibliography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Greene, Martha. “Unwitting Redemption in Margaret Edson’s Wit.” Christianity and Literature 51 (Winter, 2002): 241-256. Examines the complexities of religion and spirituality—both John Donne’s and Vivian Bearing’s—in Edson’s play.

Martini, Adrienne. “The Playwright in Spite of Herself.” American Theatre 16 (October, 1999): 22-25. An interview in which Edson discusses her life before and after the success of Wit.

Renner, Pamela. “Science and Sensibility.” American Theatre 16 (April, 1999): 34-37. Discusses the treatment of medical science in Edson’s Wit and in the plays of Lisa Loomer.