Suzan-Lori Parks Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

What elements of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter (1850) does Suzan-Lori Parks incorporate in her drama In the Blood?

Elaborate on the “truth” (or lack thereof) of Parks’s statement that white artists create art while black artists make statements.

What are the differences between what Parks calls “figures” and more traditional dramatists call “characters”?

Compare Parks’s novel Getting Mother’s Body to William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying (1930).

Who was Saartjie Baartman and how did Parks use or abuse her real-life story in her play Venus?

Explain Parks’s fascination with Abraham Lincoln.

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Though her literary reputation rests primarily on her dramatic writing, Suzan-Lori Parks has also written several screenplays: Anemone Me, an independent film released in New York in 1990, Girl 6, directed by Spike Lee and released in 1996, and two scripts for Jodie Foster and Danny Glover. Parks has also written several essays that have been published in theater journals.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Suzan-Lori Parks produced her first play, The Sinner’s Place, in 1984, as a student at Mount Holyoke College. Her second, Betting on the Dust Commander, debuted in a Brooklyn garage in 1987, with Parks purchasing five folding chairs to accommodate the audience. From these modest beginnings, Parks has become one of the most celebrated American playwrights of her generation. Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom, produced in 1989, earned Parks her first Obie Award for best new American play, and The New York Times named her the year’s most promising playwright. Parks received her second Obie, for Venus, in 1996. Her next play, In the Blood, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2000.

Parks has received numerous fellowships and grants, including the Guggenheim Fellowship in 2000 and the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 2001. In 2002, Parks became only the fourth African American and the first African American woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize in Drama for her play Topdog/Underdog. She has taught at the University of Michigan, Yale University, and New York University. She also served as writer-in-residence at the New School for Social Research (now New School University) in New York from 1991 to 1992. In 2000, Parks became director of the Audrey Skirball Kernis Theatre Projects Writing for Performance program at the California Institute of the Arts.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Brown-Gillory, Elizabeth. “Reconfiguring History: Migration, Memory, and (Re)Membering in Suzan-Lori Parks’s Plays.” In Southern Women Playwrights: New Essays in Literary History and Criticism, edited by Robert L. McDonald and Linda Rohrer Paige. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2002. An analysis of Parks’s revisions of history.

Frieze, James. “Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom: Suzan-Lori Parks and the Shared Struggle to Perceive.” Modern Drama 41, no. 4 (Winter, 1998): 523. Frieze provides a detailed analysis of Parks’s Obie Award-winning play, emphasizing the significance of identity in shaping the actions and thoughts of the play’s characters.

Garrett, Shawn-Marie. “The Possession of Suzan-Lori Parks.” American Theatre 17, no. 8 (October, 2000): 22. This essay provides some background on Parks’s beginnings as a playwright and her unconventional approach to the writing process. Garrett provides a good overview of Parks’s development as a playwright and the historical, political, and racial forces that inform her work.

Parks, Suzan-Lori. The America Play and Other Works. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1995. This volume combines a sampling of Parks’s early plays, including Betting on the Dust Commander and Devotees in the Garden of Love, with three essays that provide insight on the aims and methods of Parks’s writing.

Parks, Suzan-Lori. “Interview with Suzan-Lori Parks.” Interview by Shelby Jiggetts. Callaloo 19, no. 2 (1996): 309-317. An in-depth interview highlights Parks’s eccentric theater craft.

Pochoda, Elizabeth. “I See Thuh Black Card ?” Nation 274, no. 20 (May 27, 2002): 36. A review of Parks’s Topdog/Underdog, following its Broadway debut at the Ambassador Theatre in New York, which touches on the major themes of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play.

Wilmer, S. E. “Restaging the Nation: The Work of Suzan-Lori Parks.” Modern Drama 43, no. 3 (Fall, 2000): 442-452. A summative look at how Parks redefines national icons in her use of history and revision on classical literature.