The author of some of the most interesting and provocative plays to emerge from the experimental theater scene after the 1960’s, Adrienne Kennedy is a chronicler of the surreal and the world of dream and myth. Kennedy’s technique has been described as using form “to project an interior reality and thereby creating a rich and demanding theatrical style.” Although her plays are complex and opaquely symbolic, puzzling critics and audiences alike, most commentators agree that performances of Kennedy’s work are intensely theatrical and rewarding.
Born Adrienne Lita Hawkins, the playwright was one of two children and the only daughter of Cornell Wallace Hawkins and Etta Haugabook Hawkins of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Although she was a precocious and imaginative child who learned to read at age three, Kennedy enjoyed an average middle-class childhood in an integrated neighborhood. She was encouraged by her parents, who were college graduates and respected professionals, and she read voraciously and began writing stories while still a child. Because of her comfortable and relatively sheltered upbringing spent in the company of people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds, Kennedy was completely unprepared for the reality of racism she encountered while studying at Ohio State University. The segregated restaurants of Cleveland and the hostile white students at the university were an education in themselves; in her plays, she later she drew on the anger that developed during this time. After receiving her degree in 1953, she married Joseph C. Kennedy, who was sent by the U.S. Army to Korea shortly after the wedding.
It was during her husband’s absence that Kennedy first tried writing two short theatrical pieces, one based on an Elmer Rice play, the other influenced by Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie (pr. 1944). Yet it was only with her husband’s return and his subsequent enrollment in the graduate program at Columbia Teachers’ College that Kennedy began to write in earnest, honing her craft in creative writing programs at Columbia University, the American Theatre Wing, and the Circle-in-the-Square School. Her first and best-known play, Funnyhouse of a Negro, inspired by and begun...
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