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Understanding Marsha Norman

Lisa Tyler

Best known for her Pulitzer Prize–winning play 'night, Mother and her acclaimed adaptations of The Secret Garden and The Color Purple for musical theater, Marsha Norman has produced an impressive oeuvre that includes not only works for the stage but also a novel and several television screenplays. The first book on the Louisville-born writer in twenty years, Understanding Marsha Norman introduces readers to her life and work while making a persuasive case for her preeminence among America's leading dramatic artists.

Following a biographical introduction, the book examines such early plays as Getting Out, Third and Oak, and Circus Valentine, which, according to the playwright herself, taught her the skills she needed to write her more successful works—most notably the much-lauded two-character drama 'night, Mother, which centers around an apparently rational young woman's choice to commit suicide. Subsequent chapters examine Norman's underrated novel The Fortune Teller and three mid-career plays that rewrite the traditions of the Western, the biblical story of Sarah and Abraham, and the legend of Daniel Boone. Her more recent plays, including Trudy Blue, 140, and Last Dance, acknowledge the limitations of romantic relationships, while her forays into musical theater and television, including scripts for such programs as Law and Order: Criminal Intent and the Peabody-winning HBO series In Treatment, signal a dramatist who is ever willing to take risks and venture into new genres.

At her best when writing about interesting and troubled women and their relationships with each other, Norman has received much less critical attention than male contemporaries such as Sam Shepard and David Mamet. This engaging and edifying book helps rectify that disparity.

Lisa Tyler is a professor of English at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio, and a member of the editorial advisory board of the Hemingway Review. She is the author of Student Companion to Ernest Hemingway and the editor of the anthologies Teaching Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms and Wharton, Hemingway, and the Advent of Modernism.





September 2019
6 x 9
154 pages
ISBN 978-1-64336-002-7 Hardcover, $39.99s

ISBN 978-1-64336-003-4
Ebook, $39.99

Understanding Contemporary American Literature

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