Suzan-Lori Parks was born in Fort Knox, Kentucky, in 1963 (or by some accounts, 1964), the daughter of Donald and Frances Parks. Donald was a career army officer, and Frances was a university administrator and storyteller. Upon retirement from the service, Donald earned a doctorate and began a second career as a college professor.
The young Parks began writing novels at the age of five. The Parks family moved a great deal during her childhood as a result of her father’s army career. She lived in six states before the family was transferred to an army base in Germany. Regarding her life as “an army brat,” she says: “I’ve heard horrible stories about twelve-step groups for army people. But I had a great childhood. My parents were really into experiencing the places we lived.” She graduated high school in Germany, choosing to attend a traditional German school rather than the base high school provided by the American government. “In Germany,” she remarked during a 1993 interview, “I wasn’t a black person, strictly speaking. I was an American who didn’t speak the language. I was a foreigner.” Parks notes that spending time in a different country had an impact on her as a writer. In a 1996 essay in Grand Street magazine, she wrote, “Places far away like Timbuktu, like France, like Africa, they draw us out like dreams. The far-away provides a necessary distance, a new point of reference, a place for perspective.” In a way, spending her adolescent years abroad helped prepare her for a United States, which, during the 1990’s and beyond, has become both intrigued and confused by the concepts of multiculturalism.
In 1985, she received her undergraduate degree from Mount Holyoke College with majors in English and German. While at Mount Holyoke, she wrote a short story called “The Wedding Pig” for a class she was taking with author James Baldwin. While preparing the story for class, she realized that the people from the story were with her, “not telling the story, but acting it out—doing it. It was not me, not the voice of confidence or the voice of doubt. It was outside of me. And all the stories I wrote for this class were like that.” She “performed”...
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