Robert Schenkkan Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Robert Frederic Schenkkan, Jr., was born in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, son of Robert Fredric and Jean (McKenzie) Schenkkan. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude from the University of Texas at Austin in 1975, and he received an M.F.A. in Theatre Arts from Cornell University in 1977. In 1984 he married the actress Mary Anne Dorward. He was active in theater and film as both a writer and actor, but the work that established his reputation was the sequence of nine short plays that make up The Kentucky Cycle, a huge box office success at its 1991 world premiere at the Intiman Theatre in Seattle and winner of five Los Angeles Drama Critics Awards. It is the only play ever to win the Pulitzer Prize in Drama without having been first produced in New York. The play germinated in Schenkkan’s mind after a trip through Appalachia in the early 1980’s, when he was shocked at the poverty he saw and richer people’s brutal indifference to it.


(Drama for Students)

Born in 1953, Robert Schenkkan wrote the The Kentucky Cycle after a trip to the Appalachian mountains in the early 1980s. There he was impressed by the rugged beauty of nature and the utter devastation that strip-mining had brought to the landscape. Schenkkan was also struck by the great divide between rich and poor in such a compact area as eastern Kentucky. He says that he began writing The Kentucky Cycle in 1984 as a wedding present to his wife. The cycle of plays grew into a tale about ‘‘America from its ‘‘discovery’’ by Europeans to its rediscovery’’ in the 1960s.

Schenkkan originally began his career as an actor, appearing in films with Christian Slater and episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but he soon discovered his talents for writing and scripting. His plays have won multiple awards and critical acclaim. He won the Julie Harris/Beverly Hills Theatre Guild Award in 1989 for Heaven on Earth, the LA Weekly’s Critic’s Choice Award for Tachinoki, and a ‘‘Best of Fringe’’ Award at the Edinburgh Festival for The Survivalist. Schenkkan has also written screenplays for Oliver Stone, Denzel Washington, and Ron Howard.

The Kentucky Cycle won Schenkkan the largest grant ever presented by the Kennedy Center for New American Plays and broke box-office records when it premiered in Seattle in 1991. In 1992, he made history when The Kentucky Cycle won the...

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