ADDRESSES: Home—Brooklyn, NY. Agent—Peter Hagan, The Gersh Agency, 41 Madison Ave., 33rd Fl., New York, NY 10010-2210.
CAREER: Playwright. Former national press officer for Amnesty International. Visiting lecture in playwriting, Yale School of Drama, 2000–. Lecturer, visiting professor, and workshop participant at various institutions.
MEMBER: PEN, Dramatists Guild, Playwrights Horizons, New Dramatists, New York Foundation for the Arts.
AWARDS, HONORS: Fellowships from Guggenheim Foundation, Manhattan Theatre Club, New Dramatists, and New York Foundation for the Arts; Heideman Award for Ten-Minute Play, Actors Theatre of Louisville, 1993, for Poof!; National Endowment for the Arts/TCG grant for theatre residency at Freedom Theatre, Philadelphia, 1999–2000; TCG residency grant, National Endowment for the Arts, for A Walk through Time; AT&T OnStage Award, and Rockefeller grant, both for Las Meninas; New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Play, Outer Critic Circle Award for Best Play, John Gassner Award for Best Playwright, PEN Laura Pels Award for Drama, American Theatre Critics' Steinberg New Play Award, Francesca Primus Award, AT&T OnStage Award, Audelco Best Playwright award, and four L.A. Ovation Awards, all for Intimate Apparel; Off-Broadway Award for playwriting, 2005, for Fabulation; or, the Re-Education of Undine; Whitebird playwriting contest winner.
Poof! (also see below), first performed in Louisville, KY, 1992.
Mud, River, Stone (also see below), first produced by Playwrights Horizons, 1997.
(Co-author) Side Streets (screenplay), Merchant-Ivory, 1999.
A Walk through Time, first performed by Freedom Theatre, 2001.
Las Meninas (also see below), first performed in San Jose, CA, 2002.
Por'knockers (also see below), first performed in Louisville, KY, 2002.
Becoming American, first performed in Louisville, KY, 2002.
Snapshot, first performed in Louisville, KY, 2002.
Intimate Apparel (also see below), first performed in Louisville, KY, 2003.
Crumbs from the Table of Joy, and Other Plays (contains Poof!, Por'knockers, Las Meninas, and Mud, River, Stone), Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 2004.
Fabulation; or, The Re-Education of Undine (also see below), first produced by Playwrights Horizons, 2004.
(With Tracie Thom, DeSean Terry, and April Thompson) A Stone's Throw, first produced by The Woman's Project, 2004.
Intimate Apparel/Fabulation, Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 2004.
Also author of radio play Maria Rodriguez and the Hare Krishnas and the monologue A … My Name Is Still Alice/Ida Mae Cole Takes a Stance. Author of screenplay The Dew Breakers; coauthor of screenplay Side Streets. Contributor to anthologies.
ADAPTATIONS: Poof! was adapted as a short film, 2003.
SIDELIGHTS: Lynn Nottage is a playwright whose work is intended to lend a voice to the experience of the African-American woman. As a child growing up in Brooklyn, New York, she began writing plays in her journal. As she recalled in an interview posted on the Kentucky Educational Television Web site, "I think for me the journey begins downstairs at the kitchen table of my house. Down there was a gathering place for so many women. To come home from school, and my grandmother would be sitting at the table, and my mother would be sitting at the table. The woman from across the street would be sitting at the table. And they all had stories to tell. They were nurses, teachers; they were activists; they were artists. And I think that is where I got all of my inspiration as a writer."
Seeking a world beyond Brooklyn, Nottage attended the High School of Music and Art in New York, then went on to Brown University and Yale Drama School. After graduation, she worked as national press officer for Amnesty International and gave up creative writing for some time. Sitting down to work on an entry for a short-play competition, she produced the work Poof! in one sitting. The drama, which deals with abuse against women, won an award, and Nottage decided to rededicate herself to writing plays.
Nottage's play Mud, River, Stone had its origin in an article the author read about some demobilized soldiers in Mozambique who took hostages because they were never paid for their services. Nottage used the incident as the setting for her drama about an upper-class African-American couple who travel to Africa for a second honeymoon. They want to search for their roots, but instead, they find themselves taken hostage. Symbolically, Nottage sought to portray her own search for Africa and its meaning. Back Stage reviewer David Sheward wrote that the play starts out as "clever comedy," but declines into "conventional melodrama." Variety reviewer Robert L. Daniels also felt that the play loses focus, but he also had praise for the early scenes, in which "the characters are clearly defined, the landscape picturesque, the dialogue laced with humor." Reflecting on her experience in creating this play, Nottage told the Kentucky Public Television interviewer: "I most certainly will write more about Africa. I find when I have spare time I read nonfiction books about the Congo. I am fascinated by the Congo, fascinated by the politics of that region and the legacy of colonialism. By the brutality. I think some of that comes out of working at a place like Amnesty International—I studied the abuses of countries. The Congo was one of the most aggressive violators of human rights."
Crumbs from the Table of Joy is set during the 1950s and concerns two teenaged girls whose conservative, widowed father moves with them from Florida to New York City, where they all move in with their free-thinking aunt. To their surprise, their father soon comes home with a new wife—a white, German woman. Nottage explained to the Kentucky Educational Television interviewer that she wrote the play in part to try to understand the extreme changes that were taking place in society at that time: "Crumbs from the Table of Joy is about a displaced Southern family smack in the center of New York City, in the 1950s, trying to cope with those changes. Coping with integration, trying to cope with big-city ideals with a small-town sensibility." Reviewing the play for Back Stage, William Stevenson called it "at times moving and at times slow-going," but concluded: "the action picks up in the second act, with more conflict and a stirring ending."
In Intimate Apparel Nottage portrays a plain, hardworking seamstress who creates deluxe lingerie for her clients. Although the garments she sews are imaginative and erotic, in her personal life the woman is repressed and has few close relationships. She begins a correspondence with a man working on the Panama Canal, and he eventually comes to New York, where they marry. Their real-life relationship turns out to be very different from what either imagined it would be, and the second act of the play deals with their disappointments and the way they cope with them. Reviewing the play for Hollywood Reporter, Jay Reiner stated that it is a "seemingly simple and straightforward piece of stagecraft that gradually takes on a life and meaning all but impossible to resist." National Catholic Reporter contributor Retta Blaney described it as "simple yet lovely."
Explaining her mission to the interviewer for Kentucky Public Television, Nottage said: "I think that the African-American woman's voice is important because it is part of the American voice. But you would not know that by looking at TV or films. You would think that we do not exist. And part of my mission as a writer is to say, 'I do exist. My mother existed, and my grandmother existed, and my great-grandmother existed, and they had stories that are rich, complicated, funny, that are beautiful and essential.' And the stories have become the myth of America…. I want people to know that my story, that of the African-American woman, is also the American story."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Theatre, November, 1995, Michael Barnwell, review of Por'knockers, p. 10.
Back Stage, June 30, 1995, William Stevenson, review of Crumbs from the Table of Joy, p. 36; December 8, 1995, David A. Rosenberg, review of Por'knockers, p. 40; December 19, 1997, David Sheward, review of Mud, River, Stone, p. 33; December 1, 2000, Mark S. P. Turvin, review of Crumbs from the Table of Joy, p. 7; March 26, 2004, Roger Armbrust, "Lynn Nottage Wins Primus Award," p. 4.
Back Stage West, February 15, 2001, Charlene Baldridge, review of Crumbs from the Table of Joy, p. 14.
Daily Variety, April 12, 2004, Charles Isherwood, review of Intimate Apparel, p. 12; May 26, 2004, Robert Hofler, "Taper Dons New 'Apparel,'" p. 5.
Entertainment Weekly, September 3, 2004, Chris Willman, review of Intimate Apparel, p. 83.
Hollywood Reporter, July 6, 2004, Frank Scheck, review of Fabulation; or, The Re-Education of Undine, p. 18; August 6, 2004, Jay Reiner, review of Intimate Apparel, p. 24.
National Catholic Reporter, April 30, 2004, Retta Blaney, review of Intimate Apparel, p. 15.
New Yorker, April 19, 2004, John Lahr, review of Unnatural History, p. 196.
Variety, December 22, 1997, Robert L. Daniels, review of Mud, River, Stone, p. 72; April 1, 2002, Dennis Harvey, review of Las Meninas, p. 42; June 21, 2004, review of Fabulation; or, The Re-Education of Undine, p. 45.
Women's Wear Daily, March 22, 2004, Karyn Monget, review of Intimate Apparel, p. 10.
Brooklyn Rail, http://www.thebrooklynrail.org/ (September 2, 2005), Sonya Sobieski, interview with Lynn Nottage.
Culture Vulture, http://www.culturevulture.net/ (September 2, 2005), review of Intimate Apparel.
Kentucky Educational Television Web site, http://www.ket.org/ (September 2, 2005), "A Talk with Playwright Lynn Nottage."
New Dramatists Web site, http://www.newdramatists.org/ (September 1, 2005), biographical information about Lynn Nottage.
Steppenwolf Backstage Online, http://www.steppenwolf.org/ (September 2, 2005), Alyson Roux, "Lynn Nottage at Steppenwolf," review of Intimate Apparel.