Kennedy, Adrienne

Alternative names
Birth 1931-09-13

Biographical notes:

American playwright, memoirist, and educator.

From the description of Papers, ca. 1954-1992. (Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center (HRC); University of Texas at Austin). WorldCat record id: 122494190

Epithet: playwright

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000001305.0x0003b8

Playwright and educator Adrienne Kennedy, the daughter of Cornell Wallace Hawkins and Etta Haugabook Hawkins, was born on September 13, 1931, in Pittsburgh, PA. Kennedy grew up in Cleveland, OH, where her parents moved four years after her birth. She received her B.A. from Ohio State University in 1952, and married Joseph C. Kennedy on May 15, 1953, with whom she had two sons, Joseph Jr. and Adam. After moving to New York, Kennedy studied creative writing at Columbia University (1954-1956), American Theatre Wing (1958), and later with Edward Albee at Circle-in-the-Square School (1962). She has also taught creative writing at Yale University, Princeton University, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of California at Davis.

Kennedy is an African-American dramatist whose early works utilize a surrealist perspective. Though she has mentioned Tennessee Williams and Federico García Lorca as two of her favorite playwrights, at least one critic has noted a kinship with Jean Cocteau in certain of her works. Her richly symbolic plays deal with racial, sexual, and religious themes, and are often disarmingly autobiographical. Kennedy calls her plays states of mind, written while images fiercely pound in (her) head. Frequently the characters and images that appear in her plays are drawn from the mythical and historical past, or from her own memories and dreams. The landscape of her plays has been peopled by figures as unlikely as Queen Victoria, Leonardo da Vinci, Jesus Christ, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Galileo, Beethoven, Charlie Chaplin, Bette Davis, Shelley Winters, and even rats (in A Rat's Mass, inspired by a particularly vivid dream). Powerful African and African-American figures in her work include Patrice Lumumba, Malcolm X, and sniper James Essex.

Kennedy's best known play, Funnyhouse of a Negro, was begun in 1961 while traveling in Africa, and was the first of her plays to be produced. It opened off-Broadway in 1964 with great success and won an Obie Award. During the next several years, Kennedy was the recipient of numerous fellowships and grants (Guggenheim, Rockefeller, National Endowment for the Arts, etc.), writing a number of plays, most of which were professionally produced in major theaters in the United States and Europe. Among her plays are The Owl Answers (1963), A Rat's Mass (1966), The Lennon Play: in His Own Write (1967), Lesson in a Dead Language (1968), A Beast's Story (1969), An Evening with Dead Essex (1973), and A Movie Star Has to Star in Black and White (1976). Her more recent plays include She Talks to Beethoven (1989) and Ohio State Murders (1990). She has also written children's plays ( Black Children's Day and A Lancashire Lad, both 1980), a novella ( Deadly Triplets, 1990), and a memoir ( People Who Led to My Plays, 1987).

Two collections of her plays, Adrienne Kennedy in One Act (1988) and The Alexander Plays (1992), have been published.

From the guide to the Adrienne Kennedy Papers TXRC94-A15., ca. 1954-1992, (Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin)


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  • Jackson, George, 1941-1971
  • Race relations
  • African American authors
  • Johnson, Robert, d. 1938-
  • American drama--20th century
  • African Americans--Race identity
  • Autobiography--Afro--American authors
  • Autobiography--African American authors
  • Surrealism
  • American drama--Afro--American authors
  • Theater--20th century
  • Influence (Literary, artistic, etc.)
  • African American women--Drama
  • American drama--Women authors
  • Dramatists, American--20th century
  • Women--drama
  • American drama--African American authors


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  • United States (as recorded)