Suzan-Lori Parks exudes the kind of confidence and intellectualism that you can’t help but be caught up in. her latest work, The Book of Grace, will be performed at Zach Scott Theatre beginning in June. the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama took some time out to speak with me–while she was in town for Watch Me Work–about family, her texas roots and why she’s optimistic about the future.
Tell me about the background of your current project, The Book of Grace.
When i came to see what dave steakley and his crew had put together for 365 Plays/365 Days in 2006, i was amazed because he’d commandeered the pedestrian bridge. he’d taken it over and he had plays going on. that’s when i was like, oh my god, i love Austin.
The Book of Grace is a play about a family, about a woman who is dedicated to working toward things coming out right. she’s kind of a fierce warrior inhabiting the body of a waitress who is dedicated to seeing in the world the evidence of good. she’s married to a guy who works border patrol and it’s not a great marriage, but not a horrific marriage. she sees him as a work in progress and she’s writing a book, daily, in which she records the evidence of good. And her name is Grace, so she’s named the book after herself. every day she adds a little something in there: like, today i got a three-dollar tip and that was great.
Where in Texas did you grow up, and how did you first fall in love with Austin? my mother was born in Greenville, North carolina, and her family moved to odessa when she was small. When my dad went to vietnam, he was a career army officer, because the social climate in the united states was dangerous, my parents thought it would not be safe for a woman with three children to be living on her own–so we moved to odessa to be with her family. that’s when i fell in love with texas. i decided that even though we moved around a lot, i was a texan! i’ve been loving texas ever since. my first novel is set in texas, and my second novel that i’m working on right now is also set in texas. it’s easy to fall in love with Austin because it’s lovely and there are so many talented people here.
The concept of what constitutes a family has changed dramatically over time. Are you optimistic about this?
i am. i believe that progressives are the sleeping giants. We will be pushed so far and then say, wait a minute! We’re trying to do right by everybody. We’re thinking people, we’re considerate of the world. i’m optimistic about positive change because at the end of
the day–i know we know what’s right–to fire teachers from the public schools is not right. i don’t have kids, but do i mind paying for someone’s child to go to school in the public school system? No. they’ll be a better person for it and so my life will be better.
the cornerstone of family is love and support. they used to say that black people and white people couldn’t get married. definitions throughout time have changed. the definition of a human being has changed. the definition of an American has changed. At the end of the day, that’s what we want.
Progressives need to grab onto the new name. We’re progressives. it’s a great word, very energizing. From the root, forward-thinking.