“I did not believe it was possible to be a woman playwright from Kentucky. The reason I thought this, was that in the early seventies, there weren’t any. There were writers, all right, wonderful writers, a few of them women, but those writers were all from the mountains. So naturally, I thought being an artist was a matter of where you were born. If you were born in the mountains, you could be an artist. If you were born in Louisville, you had to go into advertising.”
I don’t know how many writers have won a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award, but it can’t be a long list—and Marsha Norman is on that list. Norman was born in Louisville, Kentucky and was inspired early attending performances at the Actors Theatre of Louisville. After she graduated from Agnes Scott College in Decatur,GA her first play was produced at the Actors Theatre of Louisville. According to Wikipedia she also worked as a journalist for The Louisville Times and taught at the J. Graham Brown School in Louisville.
She moved to New York City and in the 80s her play ‘night, Mother had a successful run on Broadway and won the 1983 Pulitzer in Drama. Norman also wrote the screenplay for the 1986 film version of ‘night, Mother which starred Sissy Spacek and Anne Bancroft. Then in 1991 she won a Tony Award for her writing the musical version of The Secret Garden. Her work has also brought Emmy, Grammy & WGA nominations. In 2009 she wrote scripts for HBO’s The Treatment:
“Television does such a great job with social issues, with personal family drama, the kinds of things that were the mainstay of a certain segment of theater writers; Arthur Miller, for example.”
You can get an overview of her work as a playwright, screenwriter, author and teacher at her website marshanorman.com. Currently she is the Vice-President of the Dramatists Guild of America and on the faculty at Julliard. And here’s a mini-lesson from her professor side:
“In our culture, the main story we like to tell is THE SEARCH FOR X. Someone wants something, there is something in their way, and we watch as they try to find it. The Wizard of Oz is a good example of this. Treasure of the Sierra Madre, All the President’s Men. Million Dollar Baby. Even all the Indiana Jones stories are of this family. Harry Potter is the search for peace and justice. All love stories are of this type actually. And oddly enough, the thing that most characters are searching for, whatever they decide to call it, peace, justice, truth, love, the holy grail, glory – the thing we’re all really looking for is home. Lovers are looking for each other not just for sex or fun, but they are looking for the safety and the sense of belonging that home gives people. Etc. There is something we cannot resist about the story of a search. Maybe it’s because we’re all looking for stuff all the time, but something in us, is always searching. So if you’re looking for a good subject for a story – start with a search. Organize it like a search, and end it with the finding of the thing.”
Story Lecture at Wesleyan University in 2006
P.S. If you’re a young writer (grades 6-12) living in Kentucky or the 812 area of Southern Indiana the Actors Theatre of Louisville has a NEW VOICES TEN-MINUTE PLAY CONTEST you can enter. And for other writers, between September 1 and November 1 the Actors Theatre has a National Ten-Minute Play Contest which is limited to the first 500 scripts received.
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