One of the preeminent playwrights of our time, Maria Irene Fornes was born in Havana, Cuba. After her father's death in 1945, her mother moved the family to New York where Fornes learned to speak English. She left New York in 1954 for a painting career in Europe and, while in Paris, saw Roger Blin's original production of Waiting for Godot. "When I left that theatre I felt that my life was changed, that I was seeing everything with a different clarity" ( Cummings, 52). She returned to the United States in 1957 to pursue a career as a textile designer until her career took an unexpected turn.
Her playwriting career began with "an obsession that took the form of a play and I felt I had to write it" ( Cummings, 51). Although Fornes play The Widow was published in Havana in 1961, her first produced play was There! You Died (later produced under the title T ango Palace) in 1963, which launched her highly successful career as a serious playwright. Fornes became one of the leaders in the off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway movement of the 1960s and 1970s with such plays as The Successful Life of 3 and Dr. Kheal, as well as the musical Promenade written with Al Carmines.
In 1972 Fornes and several other playwrights founded the New York Theatre Strategy to make opportunities available for playwrights whose work would not otherwise be produced. It was during this period that Fornes began her distinguished teaching career at INTAR and numerous other theatres and colleges across the country. Hispanic theatre scholar Jorge Huerta, who recognizes her immense contribution to Latino theatre, claims that Fornes "has touched almost every Latino playwright working today" ( Huerta, 57).
Fornes also usually directs and occasionally designs sets for her own work