Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Fall 2003 Newsletter

Kennedy Center of Awards


Adrienne Kennedy.

This September, playwright Adrienne Kennedy was awarded the prestigious Anisfield-Wolf Lifetime Achievement Award. The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards were created in 1935 by Cleveland poet and philanthropist Edith Anisfield Wolf. The Lifetime Achievement Award was first given in 1996 to recognize individuals whose life work contributes to the understanding of racism and the appreciation of the rich diversity of human cultures. Past recipients include Gordon Parks, Lucille Clifton, and Jay Wright.

The citation for Kennedy's award reads: "Adrienne Kennedy has been a force in American theatre since the early 1960s, influencing generations of playwrights with her hauntingly fragmentary lyrical dramas. Exploring the violence racism visits upon people's lives, her plays express poetic alienation, transcending the particulars of character and plot through ritualistic repetition and radical structural experimentation. Frequently produced, read and taught, Kennedy's works continue to hold a significant place among the most exciting dramas of the past 50 years."

Kennedy was born in Pittsburgh, PA in 1931. She received her bachelor's degree in Education from Ohio State University in 1952, and then studied creative writing at Columbia University (1954-56), the American Theater Wing (1958), and Circle-in-the-Square School with Edward Albee (1962). Kennedy's Obie-award-winning Funnyhouse of a Negro opened off-Broadway in 1964. The recipient of Guggenheim, Rockefeller, and NEA grants, Kennedy has written many plays including The Owl Answers (1963), A Rat's Mass (1966), and A Movie Star Has to Star in Black and White (1976). More recently, she has published the autobiographical People Who Led to My Plays (1987), the plays She Talks to Beethoven (1989) and Ohio State Murders (1990), and the novella Deadly Triplets (1990). She co-wrote The Alexander Plays (1992) and The Sleep Deprivation Chamber (1996) with her son Adam P. Kennedy, the latter of which won the Obie for Best New American Play. Kennedy's plays have been produced in major theaters throughout the world, and have been translated into Spanish, French, Danish, German, and Portuguese. Kennedy has taught creative writing at Harvard University, Yale University, Brown University, Princeton University, and the University of California at Berkeley.

In June 2003 Kennedy was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Literature from Ohio State University in recognition of the 50th anniversary of her graduation. The celebration included a symposium on her works and a two-week run of Sleep Deprivation Chamber.

Adrienne Kennedy's archive resides at the Ransom Center.  

-Margaret Barker

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