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Beth Henley Biography

(1952– ), Crimes of the Heart, The Miss Firecracker Contest, The Wake of Jamey Foster

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: William Hart-Smith Biography to Sir John [Frederick William] Herschel Biography

American dramatist, born in Mississippi, educated at Southern Methodist University and the University of Illinois. Henley achieved instant success with her first full-length play, Crimes of the Heart (1978; Pulitzer Prize), which was first performed by the Actors' Theatre of Louisville, Kentucky; a tale of three distressed sisters in a Mississippi family down on its luck, the play is clearly influenced by Chekhov though the oral tradition of Southern story-telling is equally resonant. Her other plays include The Miss Firecracker Contest (1981), The Wake of Jamey Foster (1982), The Lucky Spot (1986), The Debutante Ball (1987), Abundance (1989), and Control Freaks (1992). She wrote the book for a 1940s musical, Parade (1975), and the screenplay for Bruce Beresford's 1986 film version of Crimes of the Heart starring Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange, and Sissy Spacek. At her best, Henley manages an adroit fusion of comedy and pathos in her depiction of characters caught irresolutely in a world apparently determined to blight their lives.

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