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Edward Albee (Edward Franklin Albee) Biography

(1928– ), (Edward Franklin Albee), The Zoo Story, The Death of Bessie Smith, The Sandbox

American playwright, born in Washington, DC, and adopted by a millionaire theatre owner. He had an unhappy childhood, attending expensive private schools and later working at unskilled jobs before becoming established as a writer in his early thirties. Thornton Wilder encouraged him to write seriously, and he became one of the dominant group in the American theatre in the early 1960s, with Richardson, Gelber, and Kopit. All were influenced by European drama in general and by the Theatre of the Absurd in particular, and The Zoo Story (1959) and The Death of Bessie Smith (1960) were first performed in Berlin. These plays, and The Sandbox (1960), Fam and Yam (1960), and The American Dream (1961), represent a concerted onslught on the corrosive effects of American materialism. His first full-length play, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962), made his reputation as a major playwright and continued the attack on middle-class values. Tiny Alice (1964) explores both the human and divine realms, being simultaneously a metaphysical and a conventional murder mystery. A Delicate Balance (1966; Pulitzer Prize), is an interaction between two couples who end up in despair, incapable of distinguishing between society and self. Box and Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse Tung: Two Inter-Related Plays (1968) adopts a more experimental form, in which Albee explores the relationship between art and suffering. In All Over (1971), the dying of an upper middle-class man off-stage brings together his family, friends, and mistress in a discussion of his life; by the end, they have all retreated to their own discontented states of self-absorption. In Seascape (1975; Pulitzer Prize), a married couple encounter a humanoid from a past evolutionary era. Plays such as Listening (1976), Counting the Ways (1977), The Lady from Dubuque (1978), and The Man Who Had Three Arms (1983), were less successful. With Three Tall Women (1991; Pulitzer Prize), Albee displayed his former energy in a powerful examination of old age and change. He has also adapted for the stage other writers' works, including Herman Melville's ‘Bartleby’ as an opera (1961), Carson McCullers' The Ballad of the Sad Café (1963), and Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's (1966). His intention as a dramatist has always been ‘to offend—as well as to entertain and amuse’.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: 110A Piccadilly to Nelson Algren Biography