Adrienne Kennedy, like Suzanne Alexander – the main character in Ohio State Murders – was raised in Cleveland, Ohio and went to The Ohio State University in 1949. Kennedy grew up in interracial Cleveland neighborhoods where her Georgia-born parents, C.W. and Etta Hawkins, were college graduates and members of Cleveland’s black middle class. From her early years they instilled in her a pride in black achievement. In her memoirs -People Who Led to My Plays,’ Kennedy writes, “My parents’ friends were members of the NAACP and the Urban League, were members of the Alphas, Kappas, the AKAs, the Deltas and Sigmas…They organized social clubs for their children, pushed them to do well in school, encouraged them to enter professions…They worked hard, very hard to maintain all of this.”
Leaving this relatively sheltered environment to attend The Ohio State University, Kennedy was forced to confront racial hatred on her own. She recalls, “the immensity, the dark, rainy winters, the often open racial hatred of the girls in the dorm continued to demoralize me.” In the early 1990’s Gerald Freedman and Mary Bill of Great Lakes Theatre Festival commissioned Kennedy to write Ohio State Murders which addresses that difficult time in her life. It’s in part through this play that things have, in a way, come full circle. In 2003, The Ohio State University gave Kennedy an honorary doctorate in celebration of the 50th anniversary of her graduation. Ohio State Murders is now taught at The Ohio State University as well as at other universities and colleges.
Kennedy has been a force in American theatre since the early 1960s, influencing several generations of playwrights with her hauntingly fragmentary lyrical dramas. She is a three-time OBIE Award winner for Funnyhouse of a Negro in 1964, June and Jean in Concert in 1996 and Sleep Deprivation Chamber (which she co-authored with her son Adam Kennedy). Among her honors are the American Academy of Arts and Letters award, a Guggenheim fellowship, an Anisfield-Wolf Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003 and a Modern Language Association Honorary Fellowship in 2005. Ms. Kennedy has been commissioned to write works for the Public Theater, the Royal Court Theatre, and The Juilliard School and by Jerome Robbins. She has been a visiting professor at the University of California at Berkeley and Harvard University, among other universities.