Adrienne Kennedy is one of the most influential and original American playwrights of the 20th and 21st centuries. She was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1931, and grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. She attended Ohio State University and Columbia University, where she studied creative writing. She married Joseph Kennedy, a law student, in 1953, and they had two sons. They divorced in 1966.
Kennedy began writing plays in the early 1960s, inspired by her experiences of racism, alienation, and identity as a Black woman in America. Her first play, Funnyhouse of a Negro, premiered in 1964 and won an Obie Award. It was a surreal and poetic exploration of the psyche of a young Black woman who imagines herself as different historical figures, such as Queen Victoria and the Duchess of Hapsburg. The play was groundbreaking in its use of non-linear structure, symbolism, and fragmentation.
Kennedy continued to write innovative and challenging plays that defied conventional genres and expectations. Some of her notable works include The Owl Answers (1965), A Rat’s Mass (1968), A Movie Star Has to Star in Black and White (1976), Ohio State Murders (1992), Sleep Deprivation Chamber (1996), and He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box (2018). Her plays often draw on her personal experiences, such as her travels to Africa and Europe, her family history, and her encounters with violence and oppression. Her plays also reference various cultural influences, such as literature, film, music, and mythology.
Kennedy has received many honors and awards for her contributions to American theater, including a lifetime Obie Award, an American Book Award, an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, a Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award, a Dramatists Guild of America Lifetime Achievement Award, and a Theater Hall of Fame induction. In 2022, she received the Gold Medal for Drama from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a prestigious honor that has been given to only 16 people before her.
Adrienne Kennedy is a visionary who has shaped the landscape of American drama with her daring and original voice. She is widely admired by critics, audiences, and fellow playwrights for her courage, creativity, and insight. She is still writing at the age of 91, making her Broadway debut with Ohio State Murders in 2022. She is a living legend who deserves to be celebrated and studied for generations to come.