Tina Howe Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Tina Howe, reared in New York City, was born into an aristocratic and celebrated family. Her grandfather, Mark Antony DeWolfe Howe, was a renowned poet and Pulitzer Prize recipient. Her father, Quincy Howe, was an eminent radio and television broadcaster, and her mother, Mary, was a painter. After attending private schools in New York, Howe went to Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, where she received a baccalaureate degree in 1959. Howe tried her hand at playwriting during her undergraduate studies and had a play produced (Closing Time) at Sarah Lawrence College, with Howe directing and Jane Alexander, Howe’s classmate, starring in the production. She did not seriously consider becoming a dramatist, however, until the year after her graduation, when she traveled to Paris and had the opportunity to meet aspiring young writers and, more important, to see various experimental, absurdist theater productions, in particular Eugène Ionesco’s La Cantatrice chauve (pr. 1950; The Bald Soprano, 1956) and Rhinocéros (pr., pb. 1959; Rhinoceros, 1959). This experience was a turning point for Howe, for the absurdist dramas appealed to her own antic, comic spirit, and these plays would later influence her dramaturgical style. She returned to New York, married writer Norman Levy in 1961, and taught high school English in Maine, where she also served as drama coach for the school’s club. This position helped her learn her craft, for the rigors of writing one-act plays for the club’s production season helped her gain the discipline and focus that she needed as a writer. During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, Howe and Levy took various teaching positions at colleges in Chicago, Madison, and Albany. Howe continued to write plays, with The Nest receiving a professional production. In 1973, the couple settled in New York City with their two children. In 1983 Howe began working as an adjunct professor of playwriting at New York University and in 1990 became a visiting professor at Hunter College.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Born on November 21, 1937, to Quincy Howe and Mary Post Howe, Tina Howe spent much of her childhood on the upper East Side of Manhattan. Her writing echoes her childhood struggles to win the approval of her otherwise occupied parents. Protesting the McCarthy hearings of the 1950’s (during which U.S. citizens’ civil liberties were placed in jeopardy as they were questioned about communist political affiliations), her newscaster father left CBS for a position with the University of Illinois. Her mother, a painter and Boston socialite, towered over others thanks to her five-foot, eleven-inch frame and flamboyant hats. Howe’s yearning for the approval of her preoccupied mother plays clearly in Painting Churches.

In Manhattan, Howe attended private schools. There she endured the ridicule of other children for her childhood lisp and unusual height but learned to compensate with humor. After graduation, she attended Bucknell University for two years and then transferred to Sarah Lawrence College, graduating in 1959. At Sarah Lawrence, Howe wrote her first short play, Closing Time. Upon completion of her university degree, she traveled to Paris and continued to write. By 1973, Howe had returned to New York City, where she married Norman Levy, a novelist. She taught high school English and drama, all the while writing scenes for her young actors to perform in class. Writing for high school actors proved to be wonderful training, she said, for the work she would complete later.

Howe held teaching positions in Maine and Wisconsin before moving to Kinderhook, New York, where she completed her first professionally produced plays, The Nest and Birth and After Birth. Strongly influenced by...

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