The Adrienne Kennedy Reader

The Adrienne Kennedy Reader

The Adrienne Kennedy Reader

The Adrienne Kennedy Reader


Introduction by Werner Sollors

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, Kennedy's plays express poetic alienation, transcending the particulars of character and plot through ritualistic repetition and radical structural experimentation. Frequently produced, read, and taught, they continue to hold a significant place among the most exciting dramas of the past fifty years.

This first comprehensive collection of her most important works traces the development of Kennedy's unique theatrical oeuvre from her Obie-winning Funnyhouse of a Negro (1964) through significant later works such as A Movie Star Has to Star in Black and White (1976), Ohio State Murders (1992), and June and Jean in Concert, for which she won an Obie in 1996. The entire contents of Kennedy's groundbreaking collections In One Act and The Alexander Plays are included, as is her earliest work Because of the King of France and the play An Evening with Dead Essex (1972). More recent prose writings Secret Paragraphs about My Brother, A Letter to Flowers, and Sisters Etta and Ella are fascinating refractions of the themes and motifs of her dramatic works, even while they explore new material on teaching and writing. An introduction by Werner Sollors provides a valuable overview of Kennedy's career and the trajectory of her literary development.

Adrienne Kennedy (b. 1931) is a three-time Obie-award winning playwright whose works have been widely performed and anthologized. Among her many honors are the American Academy of Arts and Letters award and the Guggenheim fellowship. In 1995-6, the Signature Theatre Company dedicated its entire season to presenting her work. She has been commissioned to write works for the Public Theater, Jerome Robbins, the Royal Court Theatre, the Mark Taper Forum, and Juilliard, and she has been a visiting professor at Yale, Princeton, Brown, the University of California at Berkeley, and Harvard. She lives in New York City.



Adrienne Kennedy's work, presented in its first substantial collection here, has affinities to the work of Sam Shepard, Amiri Baraka, Ntozake Shange, Arthur Miller, Edward Albee, and Wole Soyinka. Simultaneously, it echoes the entire dramatic tradition, from Greek tragedy to the theatre of the absurd, from Euripides to Shakespeare, and from Chekhov to Tennessee Williams. Inspired by the themes of Hollywood movies and by cinematic techniques, Kennedy's highly acclaimed and frequently staged works have been praised as surrealistic dream plays, hauntingly fragmentary and nonlinear lyrical dramas, high points in the development of the American one-act play, and dramatic harbingers of feminist themes in contemporary Black women's writing. Kennedy's dramatic work has an unmistakable style, characterized by fragmentation, ritualistic repetition and variation, and radical experimentation with character and plot. and while it comes to life most fully in theatrical production, it is also indebted to the literary form of lyrical drama that invites reading and rereading.

All of Kennedy's works confront social and psychological terrors, past and present. Her drama is autobiographically inspired, shaped by her experience and generational vantage point, and packed with allusions to American popular culture. Kennedy's most important works explore the tragic condition of daughter, mother, father, sibling, and lover in the painful web of American race and kin relations in which violence can erupt at any point.

Born Adrienne Hawkins in Pittsburgh in 1931, the playwright spent her childhood and youth in Cleveland, with frequent visits to Montezuma, Georgia, where most of her relatives, black and white, were living.

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