Playwright, novelist, activist and part of TIME’s “100 Innovators for the Next New Wave,” Suzan-Lori Parks will spend an evening at USC next Thursday night. USC Visions and Voices and the USC School of Dramatic Arts bring Parks to campus as a part of a Visions and Voices Signature Event to discuss Parks’ acclaimed work with a book signing and reception to follow. The discussion will focus on how Parks uses her work to provide a modern lens on American history by covering issues of race and identity within her stories.
Suzan-Lori Parks is best known for her work on the Broadway revival of Porgy and Bess, which won a Tony for Best Revival of a Musical in 2012. Porgy and Bess is a folk opera written by George Gershwin, DuBose Heyward and Ira Gershwin in 1934. The story is set in 1930s Charleston South Carolina, in an African-American neighborhood, focusing on a love story between a crippled man, Porgy, and a beautiful woman named Bess.
Parks, along with director Diane Paulus, made many changes to adapt the show for a modern audience, taking into account that the show has many racists remarks and songs and writing around them. While there was much controversy about the changes made, with Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim sending a letter to the editor of The New York Times heavily criticizing the revival, Parks stands strongly by her work, claiming that the idea wasn’t to copy the old opera, but create something new.
“What we did is — you know on your computer, you push duplicate? We’re making another show,” Parks told NPR in 2011. “We’re not saying, ‘This will replace the original, brilliant opera called Porgy and Bess.’ And again, the Gershwins asked us to.”
Parks is also well known her Pulitzer Prize-winning show, Topdog/Underdog, which made her the first African-American woman to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The thought-provoking play is about two African-American men named Lincoln and Booth who learn to be con men on the streets, and touches on themes of racism, family and healing. Other notable plays of hers include 365 Days/365 Plays, where Parks wrote a play every day for a year, In the Blood, Venus, Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom and, her newest play, Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3). Father Comes Home From the Wars is a Civil War piece from a modern perspective, combining music with drama as it tells a story of America, belonging and internal battles. It alludes greatly to Homer’s Odyssey, following the epic, three-part journey of a slave finding freedom in the South. The play opened at the Public Theater in New York City in 2014, and since then has gained much critical acclaim, with Parks winning the 2014 Horton Foote Prize and the 2015 Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama, in addition to being named a a Pulitzer Prize finalist.
The discussion will be moderated by Luis Alfaro, a playwright and professor at the USC School of Dramatic Arts. The event will take place Oct. 6 at 7 p.m. in Town and Gown and is free with an RSVP through the USC Visions and Voices website.