At 8 PM, Sunday April 7, playwright Suzan-Lori Parks saw her first Broadway play, Topdog/Underdog, open at the Ambassador Theatre. Hours later she read a nearly unbroken series of positive notices in the dailies. On Monday at 3 PM, Columbia University announced Parks had won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Topdog/Underdog, the 72nd such honor ever bestowed and the first to go to an African-American woman. At 5 PM, while being driven to a photo session at the Ambassador, Parks spoke with Playbill On Line's Robert Simonson about the sudden change afforded her career in the last 24 hours.
Playbill On-Line: You're the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. Do you feel like the Halle Berry of playwriting?
Suzan-Lori Parks: [Laughs.] Gee, I wish I was so glamorous!
PBOL: But seriously, do you feel the award is an important victory beyond the honor it pays your play?
SP: It feels more important to me because, while it's a first for African American women playwrights, it's also to me more about American theatre. I sit in the theatre [every night] and see all the different ethnic groups and faces and the ranges of people who come to watch the play and enjoy the play, and who afterwards rush up to me to tell me. This is important to American theatre—that we can get together across racial, ethnic and age lines and we can enjoy an evening of theatre. That's important to me.
PBOL: While writing Topdog/Underdog, did you feel it could have a different future than your previous plays, which have mostly limited runs at Off-Broadway's Public Theater?
SP: Well, you never know. But as I was writing, I was laughing a lot. And I was enjoying it a lot. It had a different birth. It was relatively easy to write. The time it took was not forever and ever. I really wanted George Wolfe to direct because I thought it was something he'd enjoy and have a good time with. So it was different in my mind already, because it was something that I was going to sit outside George's door and beg him every day to direct until he said yes.
PBOL: The Public keeps you busy. Fuckin' A is set for the fall. Will Wolfe direct again?
SP: I don't know! He's doing five million things. For Fuckin' A, I've talked to a lot of wonderful directors about it. I might work with George, I might work with somebody else. I like working with different people. PBOL: And what about the new adaptation of Ibsen's Peer Gynt you've written for the Public?
SP: We were going to have workshop this summer, but I think it's going to be next summer at this point. Because I'm doing a movie for Oprah Winfrey's [production] company [HARPO]. So I think we're going to do it next summer.
PBOL: What is the film you're doing for Oprah Winfrey?
SP: It's an adaptation of "Paradise," which is Toni Morrison's latest novel. It's a joy to work with [Winfrey's] company. I'm having so much fun. I'm finishing that up this summer and they'd like to shoot it in the next 10 months.
PBOL: And the progress on the Disney musical Hoopz?
SP: Hoopz is going well. They just brought on Jeanine Tesori to do the music. I'm doing another draft this summer after I finish up the HARPO thing.
PBOL: You were previously a Pulitzer finalist for In the Blood. What is your attitude toward artistic competitions in general?
SP: I think two things. One, if it's yours to win then you've won it. And if it's someone else's to win, then they win. And two: I don't really think that there is a competition. I don't think we're in a race. I used to do karate and my karate teacher always used to say, "There is no competition. Your only competitor is you." My only competitor is the blank page. [Laughs.]
—By Robert Simonson