Adrienne Kennedy Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Adrienne Lita Hawkins Kennedy was born on September 13, 1931, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Cornell Wallace Hawkins and Etta Haugabook Hawkins. After Kennedy learned to read at three years of age, she became a voracious reader who had moved alphabetically through her local library’s shelves before she reached high school.

In 1935, Kennedy’s family moved to an integrated, middle-class neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio. Both parents, college graduates and professionals, influenced Kennedy’s writing style: her mother, through humorous stories edged with pathos; her father, a Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) branch executive director, through nightly recitations of the poetry of Langston Hughes, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and others. Active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Urban League, both parents instilled in Kennedy the importance of having a positive impact upon the world.

Throughout her elementary and her high-school years, Kennedy continued to be an all-consuming reader and a superb achiever. In fact, one of her elementary school teachers cautioned her mother that Kennedy could make herself ill from her own high expectations of herself.

Not until she began her freshman year at Ohio State University in 1949 did she experience overt racism that caused her to question her own identity. No longer was she judged on her abilities and her achievements; suddenly, she found herself prejudged on the basis of the color of her skin. The wrenching theme of a personal identity raging in a dissonant universe pervades Kennedy’s writings.

With the limited possibilities of education or social work for a major, Kennedy chose education. Although she satisfactorily completed the required course work, she did so without her customary intellectual avidity. In her senior...

(The entire section is 761 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Kennedy counterpoints a polished poetic style with brutal synaesthetic imagery that engulfs those who experience her works. This process generates in her audiences an empathic recognition of the truth inherent in her vision, as well as a hypnotic tension that is further accentuated by her use of rhythm, ritual, repetition, and myth.

Kennedy exorcises her unconscious demons onstage. As such, her plays are a challenge to theater practitioners. Nevertheless, through her writing, she intimately captures and shares the essence of the human spirit’s search for self-integration, belongingness, and love.


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Adrienne Kennedy’s plays baffle and entice theater critics. In Kennedy, critics recognize a singularly able writer whose surrealism surpasses that of Tom Stoppard and Amiri Baraka. Edward Albee’s early recognition of Kennedy’s ability encouraged the yet-unpublished playwright to persist in her writing and led to the production of her Funnyhouse of a Negro.

Raised in a multiethnic neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio, where her father, Cornell Wallace Hawkins, was an executive secretary for the Young Men’s Christian Association and her mother, Etta Haugabook Hawkins, was a teacher, Kennedy was secure in her identity. She grew up associating with her neighbors: blacks, Jews, Italians, eastern Europeans. Where she lived, these people existed harmoniously, so Adrienne was not exposed to a racially motivated identity crisis until she entered Ohio State University in Columbus in 1949. There Kennedy felt isolated and inferior. Columbus’ restaurants were still segregated, and there was little interaction between blacks and whites. By the time she was graduated in 1953, her racial anger and her detestation of prejudice had eaten away at her in ways that would shape her future writing career.

Kennedy married Joseph Kennedy shortly after graduation and followed him to New York City, where they both attended Columbia University. She studied creative writing there from 1954 until 1956. In 1958, she studied at the American Theatre Wing, then at the New School of Social Research, and finally at Edward Albee’s Circle-in-the-Square School in 1962, where she was the only black student. Albee’s encouragement led to Kennedy’s continuing her writing career.

Her drama examines the inner struggles people encounter as they cope with their identities in relation to the outside forces that confront them. Kennedy’s plays are essentially without plot. Her leading characters have multiple personalities, reflecting aspects of their identities. She relies heavily on the use of masks, each reflecting the different identities of her characters and suggesting elements of African art and culture as well.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Adrienne (Lita Hawkins) Kennedy was born on September 13, 1931, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Cornell Wallace Hawkins, a social worker, and the former Etta Haugabook, a teacher. She grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and attended Ohio State University, where she received a bachelor’s degree in education in 1953. A few years later, she moved to New York and enrolled in creative writing classes at Columbia University and the New School for Social Research. In 1962, she joined Edward Albee’s Playwrights’ Workshop in New York City’s Circle in the Square. She wrote Funnyhouse of a Negro for Albee’s workshop. A decade later, she became a founder of the Women’s Theater Council. In 1953, the playwright married Joseph C. Kennedy, whom she divorced in 1966. She has two sons.

Kennedy settled in New York, where she divided her time between writing and teaching. She continued to receive awards and recognition for her writing. On March 7, 1992, the opening date of her play The Ohio State Murders, the mayor of Cleveland proclaimed the day Adrienne Kennedy Day in Cleveland.