Corthron, Kia 1961–
Kia Corthron 1961–
In today’s dramatic world, few playwrights have the force of Kia Corthron. While many have written as many plays as she has, few have written so many under commission. Fourteen of her twenty plays have been commissioned, which means Corthron was directly hired to write a plece for the commission granters’ playhouse. This shows the power of her work. Her plays encompass all range of human emotion, like most plays do, but Corthron pushes past the surface to dig deep into the human psyche.
Often called a “political” playwright, Corthron finds her plays in issues, not in characters or stories like other playwrights. Most of her plays deal with African-American issues, yet skirt the realm of all human consciences. According to Weber in Columbia Magazine, “Corthron pulls her ideas from movies, newspapers and the Zeitgeist, or the general moral, intellectual and cultural climate of an era. Her works reach out to all ages, genders, races and nationalities.”
Kia Corthron was born on May 13, 1961, in Cumberland, Maryland. Cumberland was a factory town located on the small portion of the state between West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Corthron’s father worked at a paper mill in the area and died at age 51 of an aneurysm while working at the mill. Growing up in the mostly white, industrial town, Corthron found writing early in life. It became a way for her to process the world around her. She recalled her second grade teacher, Mrs. Proudfoot, as being the person who first encouraged her to write. She continued to create dialogues, more out of a need for entertainment while her older sister was at school rather than some innate artistic drive. She would often use clothespins, pencils and various household items to act out her created dialogues.
Corthron attended the University of Maryland for an undergraduate degree in communications and film. Even though she had begun writing early in life, it was not until the last semester of her senior year that she first turned on to playwriting. During a creative writing class, Corthon was assigned a group project of creating a play. She worked on the play for the entire semester, revising and reworking the text, which culminated in a final performance. The plot dealt with a returning Vietnam soldier and his sister, but the success of the short piece was not the plot, it was the impact the play had on the classroom audience. She told the Theater Development Fund’s periodical Sightlines, “When it came time to do scenes from our plays, I was embarrassed when mine lasted 30 minutes when everyone else’s was only five (they were all supposed to be five), but I was soon gratified when the lights came up and I saw how my writing affected the other students.”
That love for affecting audiences was something that excited Corthron. This was also something which drove her to work on her craft as a playwright. After graduating, Corthron was chosen for a one year workshop with George Washington University playwright Lonnie Garter. Under the direction of Garter, Corthron applied to the Master of Fine Arts program at Columbia. Corthron was accepted and attended Columbia where she studied under professors like Howard Stein, Glenn Young, and Lavonne Mueller. Upon graduation in 1992, Corthron began writing plays and was granted a
Born Kia Corthron on May 13, 1961, in Cumberland, MD. Education: University of Maryland, BA, 1980s; Columbia University, MFA, 1992.
Career: Playwright 1992-.
Memberships: New Dramatist
Awards: Daryl Roth Creative Spirit Award, 2001; Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays, 1996; New Professional Theatre Playwrking Award; Callaway Award; Van Lier Fellowship; Delaware Theatre Company’s Connections contest winner; NEA/TCG Theatre Residency Program for Playwrights; Fadiman Award.
Addresses: Agent —c/o Sarah Jane Leigh, International Creative Management, 40 West 57th Street, New York, NY 10019.
commission from the Goodman Theater in Chicago to write the play Seeking the Genesis, a piece dealing with parents drugging their children with Ritalin and the proposed government drugging of urban youth to prevent violence.
Since her graduation, Corthron has received commissions for workshops, readings, and productions throughout the country. Her work has garnered critical and audience acclaim. Beginning with the commission from Chicago’s Goodman Theater, she has gone on to receive many other commissions for plays. Although commissioned works are not the only indication of the skill and power a playwright has, they are good indications that the particular playwright is good. Among Corthron’s commissions are commissions from the Royal Court Theatre in London, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, the Atlantic Theatre Company, the Manhattan Theatre Club, the Mark Taper Forum, the Public Media Foundation, the Children’s Theatre Company, and National Public Radio with The Public Theater.
As a playwright, workshops play an important role in honing the pieces of dramatic art that playwrights create. Corthron is no exception to this rule. She has developed her work through numerous reputable workshops including the National Playwrights Conference, the Sundance retreat at Ucross, the Hedgebrook writer’s retreat, the Audrey Skirball-Kenis Theatre Project, the Shenandoah International Playwrights Retreat, Intiman Theatre, A Contemporary Theatre, Crossroads Theatre Company’s Genesis Festival, The Public Theater’s New Work Now! Festival, Voice and Vision, and the Circle Rep Lab.
Most of Corthron’s work revolves around socio-political issues. The themes of her work have encompassed many issues found in newspapers. For instance, her work Force Continuum from 2000 dealt with the issue of police brutality. Her shorter piece, Safe Box, centered on the industries that dump cancer-causing chemicals into the air and water. Her two-act drama Glimpse of the Ephemeral Dot dealt with veteran’s issues. In other plays she has examined the land mine issue, girl gangs, prisons, the death penalty, youth violence, and disability, to name a few.
With the commissions, works, and impact of Corthron’s work, she has garnered many awards. These include the Daryl Roth Creative Spirit Award, the Mark Taper Forum’s Fadiman Award, NEA/TCG Theatre Residency Program for Playwrights, a Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays, the New Professional Theatre Playwriting Award, the Callaway Award, a Van Lier Fellowship, and was Delaware Theatre Company’s first Connections contest winner.
The most provocative thing about Corthron as a playwright has been said to be her language. Sometimes called poetic and sometimes called unusual, her rhythmic style is one thing that has been a constant throughout her work. It is song-like in a sense, but comes from her youthful experience. She stated to Amy Reiter in an American Theatre article from October 1994, “I don’t know where I get my funny language from… but it is influenced by where I grew up. Nobody there speaks exactly that way, but it has a lot of rhythms. It’s music.” It is clear that with a voice so unique and catching the eye of so many critics, audiences and theater company’s, that Corthron’s will the be name soon brought to the forefront and always remembered in American theatrical history.
Catnap Allegiance, Manhattan Theater Club, 1990s.
Wake Up Lou Riser, Circle Repertory Company Lab, 1992.
Cage Rhythm, Long Wharf Theater, 1993.
Come Down Burning, Long Wharf Theater, 1993.
Life by Asphyxiation, Playwrights Horizons, 1995.
Seeking the Genesis, Goodman Theater, 1996.
Digging Eleven, New York Stage and Film, 1997.
Anchor Aria, Mark Taper Forum Square Project, 1997.
Suckling Chimera, Public Theater, 1998.
Up, Audrey Skirball-Kennis Theater, 2000.
Safe Box, Goodman Theater, 1999.
Breath, Boom, Royal Court Theater, 2000.
Slide Glide the Slippery Slope, Mark Taper Forum, 2000s.
Glimpse the Ephemeral Dot, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, 2000s.
Light Raise the Roof, Manhattan Theater Club, 2000s.
Force Continuum, Atlantic Theater Company, 2001.
Somnia, Cooper Union, 2001.
Sweat, Public Media Foundation, Boston, 2002.
Snapshot Silhouette, Children’s Theater Company, 2003-04.
American Theatre, October 1994, p. 77.
“A Playwright of Ideas,” Columbia Magazine, www.columbia.edu/cu/alumni/Magazine/Fall2003./kiacorthron.html (February 2, 2004).
“For These Theatre Professionals-It All Began In School,” TDF Sightlines Online, www.tdf.org/publications/sightlines/sightlinesO1fall.html (February 2, 2004).
“Kia Corthron,” New Dramatists, www.newdramatists.org/kia_corthron.htm (February 2, 2004).
“Kia Corthron,” Southern Writer’s Project, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, www.asftisckets.com/swp (February 2, 2004).
“Kia Corthron: A Playwright Who’s Unafraid to Admit She’s Political,” Don Shewey’s Online Archive, www.donshewey.com/theater_articles/kia.corthron.htm (February 2, 2004).
—Adam R. Hazlett
"Corthron, Kia 1961–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 23, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/corthron-kia-1961
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