Monday, May 15, 2006

Suzan-Lori Parks beckons audience to listen in, find truth

Tonight, Suzan-Lori Parks closed the 2006 speaker series with an evening of personal stories, dramatic readings, and even some down-home blues.

The Pulitzer-winning playwright and novelist dressed simply in a black shirt and skirt with boots to match. Her overarching message for the evening was similarly simple yet elegant — follow your dream.

Each of us has the power to create, and through our creations to discover the truth. Parks warned it is difficult and sometimes scary to dedicate ourselves to the pursuit of that truth, but she encouraged everyone to follow their creative spirit. "Now, right now, even when I'm speaking, is a wonderful time to take a step in the direction toward your truth."

Parks knows the difficulty of giving in to the spirit. She knew at an early age that she wanted to be a writer. But a high school teacher discouraged her from pursuing literature, so she instead focused on science. She was a biology major at Mount Holyoke College, content with her choice, until reading To the Lighthouse in a compulsory English course reignited the creative spark. "Virginia Woolf helped me remember who I'm supposed to be."

Shortly thereafter James Baldwin taught his first-ever college course at nearby Hampshire College, and Parks was among the 15 students selected for the class. She recalls reading her stories with frenetic energy — standing, pacing, gesturing. Baldwin temporarily disappointed her when one day he said, "Miss Parks, have you considered writing for the theatre?" But she soon recognized his comment was a suggestion, and not a critique of her storytelling skills.

Parks was no overnight sensation. After moving to New York City, she worked odd jobs and learned to type for temp agency work while still writing plays outside business hours. She staged her first play at a gas station–turned–bar, with little more than her family in the audience. But it was a start.

She learned to "listen in," or focus on her creative spirit. And she committed herself to becoming a writer — a process she continues today. "I wake up every day and say, 'I want to be a writer.' … Lots of wonderful things happen when you start making and remaking that commitment."

How can we learn to listen in? By reducing outside stimuli and carving out quiet time every day. By doing so, she says, we can discover our truth and explore it in our creations.

Parks is currently working on a number of projects, including a screenplay for Brad Pitt and a stage adaptation of the film Ray. Her ambitious 365 Days, 365 Plays will be staged later this year at 7 cities throughout the country.


At 10:40 AM, Blogger Gritsforbreakfast said...

FYI, I did a blog post about the event on Grits for Breakfast. Great choice - Parks is one of my very favorite writers in any genre.


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