Suzan-Lori Parks

I want to be Suzan-Lori Parks. She's smart, she's funny, she's talented and she just has that aura of coolness about her.

Maybe she'll adopt me.

Parks is the first black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama (for "Topdog/Underdog"). She spoke last night at the Seattle Arts and Lectures Series.

She mostly talked about how she became a writer. Her message is similar to Joseph Campbell's famous exhortation to "follow your bliss." Parks talked about being open to ideas when they come, no matter how weird they may seem, and then acting on them.

Parks began writing in the fourth grade. After a brief diversion into science in college (a high school teacher discouraged her from literature because she was a poor speller), she returned to her first love: writing. James Baldwin was one of her teachers and an important mentor.

When she heard voices talking to her and telling her stories, she wrote down what they said ("They come from that way," she said, gesturing to her left). She was afraid to turn around and look at the source of the voices for fear they would leave.

August Wilson described a similar experience. His plays began with a character coming to him and speaking. He would write the play to find out what the character was talking about.

One of the most important lessons Parks learned from Baldwin was to "honor the spirit" when it makes an appearance. When those voices come, when the spirit moves her to write, she embraces it and doesn't turn away. It takes guts and perseverance.

"Every morning when I wake up I tell myself; 'I want to be a writer today,'" she said. It's never too late to try something new, she said. The important thing is to follow what your gut tells you to do and then just do it.

One of Parks most recent ideas was to write a play every day for a year. She told her husband about it and he said: "That's cool." She immediately went upstairs and began to write. No matter where she was or what she was doing, she made sure to write a play every day. Most are short. The final play is all stage directions and no dialogue.

The resulting works -- "365 Days/365 Plays" -- are being produced by theaters all over the country, including Seattle.

It's all about faith, she told Hilton Als from The New Yorker:

“The writer has two kinds of faith: actual writing and sitting openly. Have faith in your personal effort or sweat. And faith in God, or whatever you want to call it. Then the voices will come.” She paused. “Faith is the big deal,” she said.
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