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Imagination, Absurdism, and Writing with Playwright Edward Albee

May 5, 2010

So I’m suspending my usual Wednesday “You Should Read” column for this important post. Edward Albee, author of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, The Zoo Story, and other fantastic, absurdist plays, stopped by my school today to talk to us about himself, his plays, and the craft of writing. I was silly and forgot my audio recorder, but here’s what you can learn from his presentation/Q&A (please forgive my horrendous ad-libbing). Also, photos soon to come:

When people analyze (your) literature:

Critics/people are always misinterpreting things in your work, but you can’t let it get to you.

About reading vs. watching plays:

You should always read the play before you watch it. You never know if the performance is an accurate representation of the play and so, if you have the opportunity, it’s always best to read it first. This is why, Albee notes, he later became a director–he didn’t want anyone to misinterpret his meaning.


I’ve never understood it. There’s no spark, no lightbulb. I look up over my head and I don’t see anythi Writing is something you do; you are a writer and ideas come to you and so you write them down.

Which comes first, Plot or Character?:

Character. You can’t get three-dimensionality any other way. I don’t know the plot, the themes when I start writing–I figure that out in the process of writing.


It’s original definition has been warped from being about a person’s absurd struggle to live in a nonsensical world to simply meaning a work that is not naturalistic. That definition limits you and confuses me. I see a musical nowadays and I figure it’s an absurdist play.

Concerning school/education:

Public schools have lost their emphasis on the arts, which is the only important thing anyhow. You’ve got to take the classes that you want to take; forget about the requirements because a good education is the one that you want to learn about. The required courses were never the ones I wanted to take, so I took the classes the seniors were taking–got kicked out of college for doing that–but ultimately, you’ve got to take the electives. Electives (art, English, etc) are the worthy things to learn.

On Writing:

I wrote a book when I was 14, another when I was 16. They were terrible, maybe the most terrible thing a teeneager’s ever written. I tried poetry and that was terrible, tried short stories and those didn’t work well for me. But I was a writer, I knew I was a writer, so I kept trying new things. I wrote a play, The Zoo Story, and it was the first play I realized wasn’t bad–it was actually pretty good. So I became a playwright.


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