Saturday, October 14, 2023

Books: "Adrienne Kennedy: Collected Plays & Other Writings," From The Library of America


Adrienne Kennedy: Collected Plays & Other Writings

Marc Robinson, editor

Library of America; hardcover,995 pages; $45.00

This new beautifully-produced volume from the Library of America is the definitive edition of the works of Adrienne Kennedy, an essential figure in Black and American theater, spanning from the 1960s through 2010s, and includes ten works that have been published for the first time. 

Adrienne Kennedy: Collected Plays & Other Writings was produced with support from Meryl Streep and VICA Foundation. The editor, Marc Robinson, is Malcolm G. Chace '56 Professor of Theater & Performance Studies and English at Yale University. He is the author or editor of numerous books, including The American Play: 1787-2000.

Kennedy's works are known for being politically engaged, formally daring, and making provocative use of history and popular culture. She has been a force on the American stage since the premiere of her groundbreaking, Obie-Award winning Funnyhouse of a Negro in 1964. 

The haunting stage works Kennedy produced dramatize and project interior realities that are often marked by disappointment and trauma, madness and terror. Her understanding of the inner lives of African American women expresses a powerfully insightful feminism that has come to influence generations of playwrights and writers.

Some of the themes Kennedy explored, and the stories focused on them in this volume, include: the early surrealistic one-acts A Lesson in Dead Language and A Rat's Mess; works that dealt with her longstanding fascination with Hollywood and film culture include A Movie Star Had to Star in Black and White and Film Festival: The Day Jean Seberg Died; and one of several plays featuring her protagonist Suzanne Alexander and the first of her plays to be staged, albeit belatedly in 2022, on Broadway, Ohio State Murders

There also is Sleep Deprivation Chamber, a searing indictment of racially motivated police violence based on real-life incidents involving her son, Adam P. Kennedy, who co-wrote the play. In addition, Kennedy adapted and reimagined works by Euripides, Flaubert, and John Lennon.

In addition to Kennedy's plays, she has made her mark with fiction and memoirs. She provides a rich portrait of her life and experience in her book People Who Led to My Plays, and in the essay "Almost Eighty." 

Kennedy writes in this excerpt from that essay: AT ALMOST EIGHTY, I wondered if I could find reasons to live.

I kept begging my son to print out pages of my mother's scrapbook, which was on his computer. Why?

All I knew was my eightieth birthday was in three months, and I was extremely sad. I had been at his family house in Virginia for a month, the month of June. For the first time I could not see how I was going to financially maintain my apartment in Manhattan, my beloved apartment on West 89th Street, an apartment I'd had for twenty-nine years, despite commuting to California and Boston, my precious home near the Hudson.

I seemed to lack energy, purpose. Dreams.

"Please print out my mother's scrapbook," I begged. He was busy. The scrapbook was in the middle of other documents.

I didn't know why but I kept begging. I wanted to see that scrapbook, started in 1926. I wanted to see all the glued-on photographs and programs that filled the pages until 1928. And from 1928-1954 all the photographs and newspaper articles that were stuck inside the pages of the scrapbook.

I'd already decided if I can't find reasons to live, then what's the point?

What can I embark on at eighty?

What could I possibly embark on?

"Embarking" had always been one of my mental mainstays.

Finally, Adam printed out my mother's scrapbook that she started when she was a student at Atlanta University 1926-1928. I felt it was my compass. My beautiful compass.

About The Library of America: An independent nonprofit organization, the Library of America was founded in 1979 with seed funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Ford Foundation. It helps to preserve our nation's literary heritage by publishing, and keeping in print, authoritative editions of America's best and most significant writing. 

Library for America editions will last for generations and withstand the wear of frequent use. They are printed on lightweight, acid-free paper that will not turn yellow or brittle with age. Sewn bindings allow the books to open easily and lie flat. Flexible, yet strong binding boards are covered with a closely woven rayon cloth. The page layout has been designed for readability, as well as elegance.

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