I think of myself as a healing artist,” explained Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage on Thursday afternoon in Pigott Theatre. Nottage appeared at the event, during which she discussed her work with Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education Harry Elam, as the Department of Theater and Performance Studies’ distinguished guest.
Nottage said that she started writing plays when she was five years old. She traced her interest in playwriting back to her grandmother, an “extraordinary ordinary woman” and an “amazing storyteller.” It was at her grandmother’s kitchen table that Nottage discovered spoken word’s power to breathe life into memories.
Nottage went on to study playwriting at Brown University and graduate from the Yale School of Drama. She credited various mentors as being central to her artistic development, including Paula Vogel, who was the first female playwright Nottage encountered. Vogel urged her to commit to writing as a profession: “You have a responsibility to do this,” Nottage recalled Vogel telling her. Nottage committed her career to interpreting and amplifying the untold stories of culturally underrepresented minorities.
Her plays, including “Fabulation or, the Re-Education of Undine and Intimate Apparel,” represent the experiences of African and African-American women. Love serves as the backbone of her narratives. Nottage said that she self-identifies as a “hopeless romantic,” who writes plays about “characters who, in coming to love themselves, are able to love another.”
Her most recent and Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Ruined”, takes place in the Democratic Republic of Congo and tells the story of female rape victims living in a brothel. Nottage said that this play marks the first time she was “driven out of rage to write.” In order to learn more about civil war in Congo, Nottage traveled to Eastern Africa, visiting Congo, Sudan and Somalia. Inspired by interviews with refugee women and former soldiers, the play explores the compromises that people make to survive during wartime.
Nottage’s current project is a “social sculpture,” a blending of site-specific art and activism, which will depict the rise and fall of Redding, Pennsylvania, one of America’s poorest cities. As much as Nottage’s career so far has been mesmerizing— and a substantive contribution to the American theatrical canon— her work is clearly unfinished. Through her eloquent commentary on where we’ve been and where we are going, Lynn Nottage promises to remain timelessly relevant.
Contact Gillie Collins at gcollins “at” stanford.edu.