Suzan-Lori Parks, a Pulitzer Prize winner, gave “a million” suggestions


Darcy Martinez

Suzan-Lori Parks, a Pulitzer Prize winner for drama, performing her song, “The Making of a Monster,” in the the Think Forum lecture, “Between Performance and Conversation.”

“Flkdasklfdsalfjdslakfjdskl” is the noise with which Suzan-Lori Parks, an acclaimed playwright and teacher at New York University (NYU), began her lecture, “Between Performance and Conversation.” Parks, the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, has written a variety of acclaimed plays, including “TopDog/Underdog” and “Porgy and Bess.” On Tuesday, Nov. 1, Parks visited the Milton and Tamar Maltz Performing Arts Center to give a lecture for the Think Forum speaker series.

During her lecture, Parks engaged audience members with her animated style of speech, making fun of everything from the presidential election to Cleveland fans’ love for their sports teams. However what stood out most was the theme of her speech, or what she described as “a million suggestions.” And while she did not literally give the audience one million suggestions, her suggestions were randomly numbered from one to one million.

“Suggestion one: Entertain all your far-out ideas.”

For Parks, it was necessary to entertain far-out ideas. She attributes her success largely to this practice, telling the story of how two of her most successful plays were written. She said, “I was in a canoe, paddling, with a friend, and we were paddling along, when suddenly, I yelled out ‘I’m gonna write a riff on ‘The Scarlet Letter,’ and I’m gonna call it ‘Fucking A!’’”

What began as a simple joke between Parks and her friend stayed in her mind, and when she returned home she wrote the play, “Fucking A.” Not only that, but whilst writing “Fucking A,” Parks also wrote “In the Blood,” another play inspired by the main character of “Fucking A.” To encapsulate the spontaneous nature of her work, Parks performed “The Making of a Monster,” a chilling piece from “Fucking A” that captures the idea that evil is easily spread.

“Suggestion number 6,393: Don’t worry about being cool, it’s overrated and you’ll miss all the fun.”

So how is Parks able to teach graduate students at NYU, where she currently works, without having a graduate degree? To her, it comes from not being afraid to be “uncool.” Years before she became successful in the entertainment industry, Parks worked at a law firm during the day, using the money she earned to pay for the plays she wrote at night. And while she tried to share her work with her more “successful” colleagues dressed in “black office-wear and black sunglasses,” all she received was backlash. “You’re never gonna make it, Parks. You’re not cool,” Parks told herself. But for Parks, “being cool was overrated.” While working in New York, Parks ran small productions at the Gas Station bar which “four people came to: my mom, dad, sister and the homeless guy by the gas station.” However Parks emphasized that despite her humble beginnings, the fear of being “uncool” had never stopped her from achieving success, and she encouraged the audience to do the same.

“Suggestion 555,512: Always recognize and always realize the value of kindness.”

At this point, Parks had already done her fair share of storytelling and suggestion-giving. So instead she supported Suggestion 555,512 with her song, “Actual Miracle.” “Actual Miracle” is a short piece utilizing Parks’ unique voice to capture the emotion and expression in her language. It is highlighted by the line, “I’m feeling like it’s gonna take an actual miracle to get us all there from here,” likely inspired by Parks’ hope for kindness to return to people. “You can practice kindness not just with people that are important…. why not? Why not show kindness to anyone?…. The taxi driver, or the flight attendant, or the cashier at the grocery store?…. See what happens.”

“Suggestion one million is simple. It’s enjoy the trip, enjoy the trip, enjoy the trip.”