Yesterday I mentioned in passing that I saw a tiny little blurb saying Suzan-Lori Parks was going to be speaking at a bookstore near Hyde Park. My first reaction was "I must go!" then I thought "Oh, this is my only night off, it's going to be a late night," then I got stern with myself: "YOU HAVE TO DO THIS, HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN CAROLINE, OR CHANGE?!" So I went. I was a little apprehensive because the store was the furthest south I'd ever been, but it turned out to be a really nice neighborhood sandwiched between the Field Museum and a university. The 57th Street Bookstore was in the basement of a building, and the books went all the way up to the low ceilings. It was very warm and cozy and you had to look out or you'd trip over people crashed out in the aisles reading.
Suzan-Lori Parks is arguably the greatest American playwright alive today. And she's an amazing all-around person. Of all the famous people I've bumped up against, this was the first person I was really excited about meeting. I first discovered her at the Royal Court Theatre when I bought her play "Topdog/Underdog" and then worked my way through the rest of her back catalogue. She is a total inspiration to me because she brings a new style and voice to her writing, but she writes a lot about historical figures. Her talk last night was about her latest project, "365 Days/365 Plays" that is going on all over the country. Basically she wrote a play a day for the past year, and now theatre companies are volunteering to put on a "set" of seven every weekend, in cities everywhere, including here in Chicago.
What struck me the most about Parks is the fact that she seems so real. She's actually older than I thought she was (I realised later that she wrote most of the plays I read in the nineties), and the way she talked about writing made sense to me. She made it sound very much like a normal job: "I get up, I write, I do theatre things," she made it sound very normal to sit down for hours at a time and write, instead of gouging an hour or two out of a hectic schedule. Which was very heartening. I asked her about her research methods for when she deals with historical topics, and she laughed and said that one of her teachers told her she was writing a play, not a history book. Which made a lot of sense: I focus so much on doing research to get the real people "right" that I get preoccupied with making them historically accurate, instead of making them living breathing Characters.
So I'm feeling less stressed today. I'm going to try to become a reader for some of the local theatre companies and reconnect with my writing roots--I can't become the literary manager at Steppenwolf tomorrow, but I can send out five more application letters. Afterward, I got to embarass myself some more by telling her how much I enjoyed reading her plays and how inspirational she was to me, while she autographed a copy of her book to "Nicki" and wished me luck on my writing. It was really, just the coolest experience I've had thus far, and completely inspiring. That's what I want to aspire to--that ease and self assurance. Oh, and a Pulizter Prize. Yeah. That would be cool too.