September 24, 2010

Award-winning playwright Edward Albee.

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Updated Feb. 9, 2011
Updated Feb. 22, 2011
Updated March 15, 2011

By Kathryn Kopchik

LEWISBURG, Pa. — Edward Albee, a three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and author of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?," has been named the 2010 Janet Weis Fellow in Contemporary Letters at Bucknell University.

Albee, who will become the first playwright to receive the award, will give a talk at 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 22, in the Weis Center for the Performing Arts at Bucknell. The event, which is free and open to the public, will be followed by a book signing. Copies of Albee's books will be available for purchase in the Weis Center lobby before and after the talk.

"Edward Albee, who has been called one of the greatest American playwrights of his generation, has created an extensive body of work that has challenged and inspired theater audiences for decades," Bucknell President John Bravman said. "It is an honor to have a writer of Mr. Albee's stature visit our campus and share his life and craft."

The American scene
Albee describes his 28 plays, written over a period of four decades, as "an examination of the American Scene, an attack on the substitution of artificial for real values in our society, a condemnation of complacency, cruelty, and emasculation and vacuity, a stand against the fiction that everything in this slipping land of ours is peachy-keen."

His first play, "The Zoo Story," was hailed in 1959 as the birth of American absurdist drama, a blend of the traditional and the avant-garde, with Albee considered a successor to American playwrights Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neill. Originally titled "Peter and Jerry," the play explores themes of isolation, loneliness and social disparity.

"The Zoo Story" was followed by a series of well-received one-act plays, including "The Death of Bessie Smith," which explores racial discrimination, and "The Sandbox" and "The American Dream," both of which are linked by the theme of death. His first three-act drama, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?," is the play for which is he is best known and one of his most controversial.

When its nomination in 1962 for a Pulitzer Prize was not accepted unanimously by the prize committee, two members of the committee resigned. The play received the Tony Award and New York Drama Critics Circle Award and now is widely considered a classic of American contemporary theater.

Three Pulitzer Prizes
Three of Albee's plays have received Pulitzer Prizes: "A Delicate Balance" in 1967, "Seascape" in 1975, and "Three Tall Women" in 1994. "Three Tall Women" also won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and the Outer Critics Circle Award.

"A Delicate Balance" examines the uneasy existence of upper middle-class suburbanites whose lives are disrupted by unexpected houseguests who refuse to leave because they're afraid of an unspecified terror. "Seascape" puts together two unusual couples, one of them human-sized intelligent lizards, who discuss how their lives have changed. The protagonist in "Three Tall Women" reflects on her nearly 100 years of life in a play considered Albee's most autobiographical.

Albee has also received a Kennedy Center Honor and was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1996. Following a revival of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" in 2004, the Academy of Achievement-the American Theater Wing presented Albee with a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement, recognizing him as America's greatest living playwright. The only other playwright to receive this honor was Arthur Miller.

In addition to his playwriting, Albee has conducted regular writing workshops in New York and taught playwriting at the University of Houston from 1989 to 2003. He released Stretching My Mind, his first collection of writings on theater, literature, the visual arts, and the political and cultural backgrounds that have defined our times, in 2005.

Weis Award
Bucknell established the annual Janet Weis Fellow in Contemporary Letters in 2002 to honor and recognize individuals who represent the highest level of achievement in the craft of writing within the realms of fiction, non-fiction or biography. Previous recipients have been John Edgar Wideman, David McCullough, Derek Walcott, Joyce Carol Oates, Tom Wolfe, Salman Rushdie, John Updike and Toni Morrison.

The Weis Fellowship was established through a grant from the Degenstein Foundation in honor of the late Janet Weis, who was an author, civic leader and philanthropist. Weis also was trustee emerita of the University. Her late husband, Sigfried Weis, was chair of the Bucknell Board of Trustees from 1982 to 1988.

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