"I Don't Think The World Likes Women Much:" Suzan-Lori Parks on Writing "In The Blood"
In In The Blood, Suzan-Lori Parks weaves a harrowing tale of the harsh realities for a woman and her children living in poverty in urban America. Though first premiered in 1999, many of the nuances and complications remain timeless. A finalist for the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, In The Blood set the stage for Parks’ win in 2002 for her play Topdog/Underdog (making her the first African American woman to receive this award).
Parks’ journey to becoming one of the most prolific and celebrated American playwrights began with an early love for writing. From poetry to creating her own newspaper with her brother, Parks was telling stories from a young age. Despite her transitory youth (living in Germany for a time during high school thanks to her father’s military stationing) and discouragements from teachers based on her less-than-perfect spelling, Parks’ love for literature endured.
Going on to attend Mount Holyoke College, earning a degree in English and German literature, Parks studied under professor and prolific novelist James Baldwin. Though Parks was initially opposed to theatre, finding those involved in the field to have attitudes, Baldwin encouraged her to begin writing plays. Unfamiliar with theatre beyond Shakespeare, Parks nevertheless went on to take his advice and reach further outside of her comfort zone. After graduating from Mount Holyoke in 1985, Parks went on to study acting for a year at Drama Studio London, believing that training in acting was the best way to further understand the theatre. What follows is years of penning plays and capturing audiences new and old.
In The Blood is a play rich in complex identity intersections and a compelling look into homelessness and poverty in America. The first of two “red letter” plays by Parks’ (plays inspired by Nathanial Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter), In The Blood precedes “Fucking A,” published just one year later. In fact, Fucking A was the original title for In The Blood. Fucking A ultimately ended up taking four years, from conception to publishing, for Parks to create. During those four years, In The Blood was born. The idea came to her suddenly - on a canoe trip with her friend - as a joke, at first. But the nagging voice of Hester, demanding that her story be told, kept Parks dedicated. “It was as if they were twins in the womb of my consciousness,” Parks said of the two plays.
In The Blood considers many of the same themes that can be found in Hawthorne’s novel, its inspiration. The play’s setting is “here,” its time is “now.” Hester La Negrita, the mother of five children by five fathers, sets out to seek support for her family. Like Hawthorne’s Hester, Parks’ Hester is confronted with society’s perspectives and expectations of her. Society’s upper echelons are able to justify much of their bad behavior just by nature of being at the top of the food pyramid - their wealth allows them a certain moral ambiguity throughout the story. Ultimately, it is a fascinating commentary on the perks of societal privilege - and what can happen to those who are not awarded the same luxuries.
“I don’t think the world likes women much,” Hester laments, as it becomes more and more difficult to make ends meet for her family. This complex story powerfully represents the challenges of existing at an intersection of identity in a world that too often kicks us while we’re down