Adrienne Kennedy continues to influence the world through her art. She was the recipient of the 2003 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, an Obie Award for Lifetime Achievement Award, the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award and the American Academy of Arts and Letters in Literature Award. She was also granted a Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Writing, awarded the Pierre Lecomte du Novy Award, and ended her academic career teaching at Harvard.
Kennedy Was a playwright-in-residence at Signature Theatre in New York City during their 1996-1997 seasons. Her play Movie Star is in a volume of Norton Anthology of American Literature and her play Funnyhouse of a Negro, most recently performed at Signature Theatre for their 25th anniversary, is a landmark piece that speaks to students try to find a place in the world .
Her plays are taught in classrooms and performed in theatres all over the world.
Click to go to Samuel French
Canaan Kennedy Interviews
Produced by Canaan Kennedy
This is an interview with Adrienne Kennedy chronicling her life as a playwright including her experiences with the Beatles and traveling across the world. Adrienne Kennedy taught at Harvard, Stanford and UC Berkeley.
Sahr Ngaujah, January LaVoy, Crystal Dickinson, Nicholas Bruder, Mikéah Ernest Jennings, Canaan Kennedy, Lila Neugebauer, Pia Glenn, April Matthis, Alison Fraser in front of the Sam Shepard and Adrienne Kennedy Mural at Signature Theatre in New York City. (2016 Production of Funnyhouse of a Negro)
Letter from Joan Buck
"Peter took me to see Funnyhouse of a Negro last night. I was transported inside your head, inside your longing, inside your dreams, inside a work of art that allowed every subsequent writer a freedom to write from the darkest truest place inside them. Without you, Toni Morrison would never have dared her incantations.
What courage you have, what boldness, what balls, what fire. I was moved and swept in. What a fine production, how well the hair was done, what an excellent, gorgeous actress Crystal Dickinson is; she stood out for me.
How telling and embracing the staging, how enveloping and startling and searing your words. I never knew, I never knew, I never knew. Knew of; didn't know.
Thank you for having written it, thank you for being. Infinite regret at not having seen you more in the 80s and early 90s."
- Joan Buck
Joan Juliet Buck (born 1948) is an American writer and actress. She was the editor-in-chief of French Vogue from 1994 to 2001, the only American ever to have edited a French magazine. She writes for W magazine and Harper's Bazaar and was contributing editor to Vogue and Vanity Fair for many years.
Your package of books made me ecstatic and [the] pink ribbons really ecstatic. I do not feel that much any more about packages. It made me feel as I did when Joe and I first were in New York in the mid fifties we used to wander all over the Village buying books and posters, discovering and return with these packages so happy, posters, posters, postcards, books and that is how your package makes feel me.
I will read everyone cover to cover already I see these small books Glenn Ligon on the Stranger my grandson and I just read the Stranger aloud last year. Years ago Baldwin and Richard Wright put a yearning in me about France. What a startling way to present the essay exciting.. My friend Billie Allen had Bearden in her living room and it was always a pleasure to enter with her FRIEND. ROMY. on the wall I studied his colors once for a long while. I do not know these Radicals feel ignorant. I will learn about them this summer as well as Gaines and Yiadom Boakye. I can see I have fallen behind in my knowledge of contemporary work. I fear I want old movies too much. I do not want to open Black Glamour book yet do not want to open it and take off ribbons. Thelma this is so exciting and I will Definitely FRAME my picture of you with my book. Your TED TALK helped me so much. For most I was long forgotten My grandsons are transfixed by books you send. They yearn to be be New Yorkers so much as I yearn to return..... .......there sixty years. Minus a few for England and Africa and Rome. What an weighty existence you have created for yourself building, creating culture architecture. I hope you are filming this building.... like those old Frank Lloyd Wright films
To be a part of New York like that !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I am so happy gazing at this package
Adrienne Kennedy's Letter to Thelma Golden
"I don’t know if Beyoncé is familiar with Kennedy’s work, but Funnyhouse plays like a hard-core retort to the self-empowerment poetics of Lemonade. That Funnyhouse came half a century earlier hardly even matters." - David Côte
"I cannot say what an honor it is, as a black actor who has worked mostly in the experimental theater world, to inhabit this role in this production. I convulse with the power and incisive intelligence of your words every performance." - April Matthis
"Adrienne-we have a brilliant story to tell, written by you with poetic genius. The images you give us make our collective mind reel. We have a fearless, inspired, passionately devoted leader in Lila. We all love each other very much, and all feel very honored to be put in the blissful, blessed position of interpreting your socially, theatrically, and spiritually important gift to the stage. And the page. And our hearts and souls. Much love and admiration, Alison, your Landlady." - Alison Fraser
Billie and I were on the phone. I think I was complaining about my life. And she said something I wrote on a little piece of white paper and kept it on my desk on West 79th . When I moved the white paper was on my new desk. My mother noticed the paper and asked me about it. She
picked it up and read it. It is something I say over and over to myself when I am upset. This is what Billie said:
"My life is the way it's supposed to be.
I'm the way I'm supposed to be .
What lessons can I learn."
I often listened to her advice over the years. She often saw coming unhappiness if I stayed on the path I was on. Sitting in the Argo on 90th and Broadway, she commented on decisions I was making. Very quietly. And time proved she was right. On a joyous note Billie and Luther were the most beautiful couple I have ever seen.
And I have given the pictures of Billie as Sarah in Funnyhouse 1964 to countless people. We remain astonished at how brave she was to go on stage in that controversial role. And give herself with such abandon and dedication .
Adrienne Kennedy talks Billie Allen
Billie Allen (January 13, 1925 – December 29, 2015) was an American actress, theater director, dancer and entertainer. Allen was one of the first black actors and performers to appear on television and stage in the United States, at a time when those venues were largely closed to African Americans. During the 1950s, Allen became one of the first black entertainers to have a recurring role on network television when she was cast on CBS' The Phil Silvers Show, beginning in 1955. She was one of the first African Americans to appear on television commercials in the U.S.
Thelma Golden (born 1965) is the Director and Chief Curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York City,USA. Golden joined the Museum as Deputy Director for Exhibitions and Programs in 2000 before succeeding Dr. Lowery Stokes Sims, the Museum’s former Director and President, in 2005. She is noted as one of the originators of the term Post-Blackness. She was named as a board member to President Obama's Presidental Library.
James Earl Jones
Excerpt from Mom, How Did You Meet the Beatles
“The day we moved to Primrose hill I got a phone call. “Hello Adrienne, this is James Earl Jones.” We had met when Ellen Holy had introduced us backstage at a production of MacBeth that Joe Papp had done in Washington Square Park. I remembered his unusually intense brown eyes. “I’m in London and I don’t know anyone.”
My new friends all wanted to meet him. Ricki invited a group to her house. Jimmy was preparing to do a movie in France with the Burtons, a Graham Greene novel. His mention of the Burtons reminded me of my obsession with Elizabeth Taylor. “Jimmy, when you’re making the movie with the Burtons, could you get me Elizabeth Taylor's autograph?” “I will,” he said matter of factly. He came to London several times while filming the movie, once bringing with him a man who was writing a book on Africa. Finally at the end of the summer Jimmy came to London again. Would he be going back to France?
“The filming is over.” he said. “Did you ever get Elizabeth Taylor’s autograph?
“No. I wanted to because i knew you really wanted it, but I felt funny asking her for an autograph.”
"The man Jimmy brought to visit was Alex Haley. He came up the stairs full of energy, carrying books under his arm. He sat on a gray silk couch and we talked about young marriages, which we both had experienced. He told me that he was writing a book that would trace his ancestors back to West Africa. Although I had been to West Africa with Joe for six months and knew it had changed my entire consciousness, I still laughed. The idea of a person tracing his family back that far was funny to me. “You shouldn’t laugh,” he said very genially, “in fact you should trace yours.” I never forgot it."