Pulitzer Prize winning playwright speaks about herself, work for Black History Month

Hannah Hunsinger | Collegian Suzan-Lori Parks explains how a professor suggested she become a playwright after she would enthusiastically read her short stories aloud in class. Parks is now a renowned playwright and the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in Drama, which she received for the 2002 play “Topdog/Underdog.” Parks spoke to the audience about a plethora of topics, from writing to directing to how she got where is today.

Sponsored by K-State’s Ebony Theatre, playwright Suzan-Lori Parks, who became the first African-American woman to receive a Pulitzer Prize in Drama for her 2002 play “Topdog/Underdog,” spoke Tuesday night in Forum Hall in observance of Black History Month.

Parks set up her presentation by telling the story of her life to convey lessons. She made many points, such as “entertaining all of your far-out ideas,” explaining how she continued to follow her dream of being a writer, not a chemist or a pianist. When speaking about her Pulitzer, she stressed the importance of recognizing the contribution of people that came before her.

“I think it was important for everyone in the audience to be able to interact with a black pioneer,” said Angelica McKinnis, historian for Ebony Theatre and senior in fine arts. “She was both a pioneer for African-American culture, as well as for theatre, being the first African-American female to win the Pulitzer. It’s important for me as an African-American woman to hear what she has to say.”

Nashon Ruffin, senior in theatre and member of Ebony Theatre, said she was proud of the group’s role in putting the event on.

Through her artistic talent, she advocates diversity through the way of the stage,” Ruffin said of Parks. “I mean, she writes about political issues, cultural issues, economic issues, just everything.”

Adrianne Russel, coordinator for public programs and events at the Beach Museum of Art, said she was impressed with Parks’ interdisciplinary skills.

“She spoke about writing novels and writing plays and directing,” Russel said. “She told us not to just be in a box, but rather do whatever and be whatever. She advocated being what we are and being open to that.”

Parks concluded her speech with a question-and-answer session. She said the quality of the questions she gets is how she rates her performance, and called the questions she was asked Tuesday night “great and diverse.”

Alex Gaines, vice president fo Ebony Theatre and sophomore in theatre, said Parks was patient with the question-and-answer part, as it ran longer than planned.

“[Parks] spoke about how being an artist isn’t about being cool, it’s about being,” Gaines said. “I really pulled from that because instead of being how her friends wanted to be, she found herself. They were being and now she is being and by that, she is being herself. That was incredibly powerful for me.”