In her early plays, Parks employed unconventional scenes and characters whose substance seemed more philosophical in nature than representational. Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom (pr. 1989, pb. 1995) comprised four separate stories rather than traditional acts to represent various aspects of the African American experience, from the slave era to contemporary times. In The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World (pr. 1990, pb. 1995), Parks created a cast of unusual characters based on racial stereotypes, such as Black Man with Watermelon and Black Woman with Drumstick, in her examination of historical and current issues of race and identity. In contrast, Topdog/Underdog relies on largely conventional characters and a linear plot. While still concerned with the continuum of African American history, Parks creates a more subtle and multidimensional context in which to explore racial and social issues.
In 1989, Parks earned her first Obie Award for best new Off-Broadway play for Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom. That year, The New York Times named Parks the year’s most promising playwright. To these early awards, Parks has added several honors, including prestigious fellowships from the Guggenheim and MacArthur foundations, a second Obie Award for Venus (pr. 1996, pb. 1997), and a Pulitzer Prize nomination for her 1999 play In the Blood (pr. 1999, pb. 2000). After a highly acclaimed Off-Broadway production of Topdog/Underdog in 2001 and the play’s opening on Broadway at the Ambassador Theater in 2002, Parks was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in drama, the first such award for an African American woman.