Timberlake Wertenbaker is reluctant to discuss three aspects of her life: her name, her birthplace, and her birthdate. Born Lael Louisiana Timberlake in the United States, she is the daughter of Charles Wertenbaker (a foreign correspondent for Time magazine and a novelist) and his third wife, Lael Tucker Wertenbaker, a prolific author of both fiction and nonfiction. It is no surprise that the daughter of such literary parents chose to pursue a writing career herself.
When she was a young child, Wertenbaker’s family moved to the Spanish Basque Provinces, and she was educated at schools near St. Jean-de-Luz, France. Wertenbaker’s experience as an American who was reared in Europe and settled in London points to a recurring theme in her work: displacement. In her plays, characters are often removed from the familiarity of home and are forced to live in new cultures, sometimes defined by national boundaries, other times by cultural and class divisions. From this central theme emerge related themes, including isolation, dispossession, and the problem of forging an identity within a new cultural milieu. In her work, individuals often seem to assume roles, as if identity were a matter of persons performing themselves. Wertenbaker’s work also demonstrates a keen awareness that communication occurs through language that often inadequately expresses experience. Her consciousness of language gives her work a lyricism that is antinaturalistic, a style served by the episodic structure of her plays, in which the narrative emerges from precisely crafted moments rather than from causally developed plots.
After her youth in Europe, she returned to the United States to attend St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, graduating in 1966. After a brief career as a journalist in New York and London, she taught French in Greece for one year. During the 1970’s, she moved to London, where she settled. It was there that she began her career as a playwright, initially working in the fringe theaters. By 1984-1985, her eminence was recognized by her serving as the resident writer at the prestigious Royal Court Theatre, where many of the original plays for which she is...
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