Suzan-Lori Parks ’85 given prestigious prize

Alumna and playwright Suzan-Lori Parks L) poses with Mount Holyoke senior lecturer Leah Glasser. Parks won the prestigious Steinberg Award, recognizing her artistic contributions to American theater.

Suzan-Lori Parks ’85 has been honored with the 2018 Steinberg Distinguished Playwright Award through The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust.

Parks accepted the award at a gala at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts — the site of some of the world’s most magnificent artistic performances — where she was given the iconic “Mimi” statuette and $200,000 in honor of her body of work and its contributions to American theater.

While Parks’ career soars ever onward and upward, she has never forgotten that it began with Mount Holyoke College. On her personal guest list to attend the event was Leah Glasser, senior lecturer in English.

When the two met in Parks’ first year, Parks revealed that her high school teacher had told her she could never be a writer because she couldn’t spell. But Glasser saw within Parks' writing a powerful potential and encouraged her to pursue her passion.

“She was a science student then, and it was our distribution requirement that got her to my course,” said Glasser. “I'm thankful for the requirement that brought her my way!”

In accepting the Steinberg Award, Parks recalled her early career and the role that Mount Holyoke played in it. She spoke of the classes she took with Glasser as pivotal in her journey.

“To have such an impact on a student’s intellectual and creative life early on is every English teacher’s dream,” said Glasser.

The Steinberg award ceremony included a performance by Parks of a song she composed for her play “Father Comes Home From the Wars (parts 1, 2 & 3)” and many performances of excerpts of her plays, including the forthcoming production “White Noise,” which will open in March at the Public Theater in New York City.   

Parks was introduced by Oskar Eustis, artistic director of the Public Theater, who celebrated her “fearless experimentation, her refusal to be confined by any categories or boundaries, her dazzling linguistic prowess and her joyous embrace of the struggle.”

Calling her “an inspiration and role model for countless other artists,” Eustis also noted Parks has achieved a rare feat amongst American artists:

“She has also defied Fitzgerald’s dictum that American artists have no second acts: in her maturity she is writing with a boldness and originality that amazes,” he said.

Parks has received numerous other honors and accolades for her daring, ground-breaking work, including the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for “Topdog/Underdog,” the 2015 Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, and a MacArthur “Genius Grant.” As a winner of the Steinberg Award, she joins a pantheon of prominent playwrights who have won the award, including Tony Kushner, Lynn Nottage and David Henry Hwang.

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