Suzan-Lori Parks, thank you! You took a room of 30-plus playwrights at a free playwriting class at Seattle Town Hall on September 7th, and spoke directly and with great encouragement (and yes, love) to each one of us new, unsure, unproduced, and doubting as we may be. It was something in the way you walked in, smiling and unpretentious, and sat down at a folding table among us. You told us that every week you invite anyone and everyone to join you in a public space in New York to write together with a timer, and that’s what we’d be doing now. With you, we opened our notebooks and laptops and started in. Something in us melted and opened. There was no judgment or shoulds here. There would be no reading back what we’d written. Just the camaraderie of writing together, twenty minutes a a clip. When you told us that having a timer was a major boost to your own writing, we breathed relief. When even a certified genius can use the help of a timer to keep her writing, it’s a prop we can be proud to use.
Bless you for the way you opened up the conversation with us after we wrote. “We won’t be talking about my writing now,” you said. “There’s time for that later today. Let’s talk about you. What questions or comments do you have about your own writing?” At every question, every comment, you responded with the clear understanding that comes from deep listening. You heard behind the words to the real issues we raised.
Some of what I learned from you that day was the words you used, and some was the way you said it. You received our questions, it seemed to me as gifts, in sacred trust. I felt that you truly saw each one of us.
Here’s some of what I learned:
Use a timer! Set it for 20 or 30 minutes, and write without stopping. It’s only 20 or 30 minutes! You can do it.
Trust yourself. If you think something of yours is good, but no one else does, go with your gut. You may be ahead of your time.
Give yourself rewards for doing necessary things you don’t like, such as getting your work out the door.You deserve it!
The twenty minutes of writing, and then another twenty, that I did in your class that day got me jump-started on a rewrite I’d been stuck on for weeks. Your encouragement let down whatever barriers I’d erected, and I went home and got the rewrite done! And I like it! And now, I set a timer every time I write. And every time, I think with gratitude, and yes, affection, of you.
May we all – playwrights everywhere – encourage and support one another as you’ve shown us how to do.
With the warmest gratitude,
Co-Founder of Seattle Playwrights Salon
Named among Time magazine’s “100 Innovators for the Next Wave,” Suzan-Lori Parks is one of the most acclaimed playwrights in American drama today. She is the first African-American woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize in Drama, is a MacArthur “Genius” Award recipient, and in 2015 was awarded the prestigious Gish Prize for Excellence in the Arts. Other grants and awards include those from the National Endowment for the Arts, Rockefeller Foundation, Ford Foundation, New York State Council on the Arts and New York Foundation for the Arts. She is also a recipient of a Lila-Wallace Reader’s Digest Award, a CalArts/Alpert Award in the Arts, and a Guggenheim Foundation Grant. She is an alum of New Dramatists and of Mount Holyoke College.
Parks’ project 365 Days/365 Plays (where she wrote a play a day for an entire year) was produced in over 700 theaters worldwide, creating one of the largest grassroots collaborations in theater history. Her other plays include: Topdog/Underdog (2002 Pulitzer Prize winner); The Book of Grace; Unchain My Heart: The Ray Charles Musical; In the Blood (2000 Pulitzer Prize finalist); Venus (1996 OBIE Award); The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World; Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom (1990 OBIE Award, Best New American Play) ; The America Play and Fucking A. Her adaptation of The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess won the 2012 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. Her newest plays, Father Comes Home From The Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3)—set during the Civil War—was awarded the Horton Foote Prize, the Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama as well as being a 2015 Pulitzer Prize Finalist.