Fornés was born in Havana, Cuba, and emigrated to the United States at the age of 14, with her mother, Carmen Collado Fornés and sister, Margarita Fornés Lapinel, after her father, Carlos Fornés, died in 1945. She became a U.S. citizen in 1951. When she first arrived in America, Fornés worked in the Capezio factory. Dissatisfied by this work, she took classes to learn English. Later, she became a translator. At the age of 19, she formed an interest in painting and began her formal education in abstract art. During this time, she studied with artist Hans Hofmann in New York City and Provincetown, Massachusetts.
In 1954, Fornés moved to Europe to study painting. There, she was greatly influenced by a French production of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot even though she never read the play nor did she understand French. This event shifted her creative ambitions towards playwriting.
In 1957, Fornés returned to New York City and roomed with writer Susan Sontag. They encouraged each other to write. Her first play was titled The Widow (1961). Her next major piece was There! You Died, first produced by San Francisco's Actors Workshop in 1963. An absurdist two-character play, it was later renamed Tango Palace and produced in 1964 at New York City's Actors Studio. The piece is an allegorical power struggle between the two central characters: Isidore, a clown, and Leopold, a naive youth. This play established Fornés' theatrical production style, in which she was involved in the entire staging process. Like much of her writing during this time, Tango Palace stresses character rather than plot. In the wake of this, Fornés' reputation grew in avant-garde circles, and she became friendly with Harriet Sohmers Zwerling, Norman Mailer and Joseph Papp. Her work was later championed by Performing Arts Journal' (later PAJ).
In Fefu and Her Friends, Fornés deconstructs the familiar stage, removing the fourth wall and staging scenes in multiple locations simultaneously throughout the theater. Four sets (a lawn, a study, a bedroom and a kitchen) are used in the second Act. The audience is divided into groups to watch each scene, then they rotate to the next set, as the scene is repeated until each group has seen all four scenes. First produced in 1977 by the New York Theater Strategy at the Relativity Media Lab, its story concerns eight women who, on the surface, appear to be engaging in mishaps with men, and it climaxes in a murder scene. It is a feminist play that focuses on female characters and their thoughts, feelings and interrelationships and is told from a woman's perspective. Fornés portrays these characters as real women, in a shift in her play-writing style to realism and naturalism in settings, characters and situations.
Another notable play, Mud, was first produced in 1983 at the Padua Hills Playwright's Festival in California. Set in a poverty-stricken environment, they play explores the lives of Mae, Lloyd and Henry, who all involved in a dysfunctional love triangle where gender roles are reversed. Fornés contrasts those who are content and those who seek more in their lives. The play exemplifies her familiar technique of portraying the female character's rise opposed by male characters. Education plays a central role of Mae's decision making process and her relationship with Henry. The piece also explores the way the mind experiences poverty and isolation. Letters From Cuba had its premiere with the Signature Theater Company in New York in 2000. The play focuses on a young female Cuban dancer living in New York who corresponds with her brother in Cuba. The play is the first that Fornés identified as being drawn from her own personal experience of nearly 30 years of letter writing with her brother.
Fornés became known in both Hispanic-American and experimental theater, winning nine Obie Awards in the playwriting and directing categories. She also taught playwriting. She continues to direct plays. Fornés received an honorary Litt.D. from Bates College in 1992. Playwright Nilo Cruz studied with Fornés, who recommended him to Paula Vogel.
Fornés' plays address social and personal issues, while removing the playwright from the work itself. Her writing style employs avant-garde techniques developed in the early years of the Off-off-Broadway movement. Her experimental techniques include modern form, feminist perspectives, realism and allegorical elements. The spectator's identification and empathy with characters is seen as the core of Fornes' theatrical philosophy. She viewed the theater as a place in which to stage experience so that the spectator can "receive" that experience and achieve "identification."
María Irene Fornés
María Irene Fornés with her mother, 1990, by Robert Giard (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/brbldl_getrec.asp?fld=img&id=1123937)
American photographer Robert Giard is renowned for his portraits of American poets and writers; his particular focus was on gay and lesbian writers. Some of his photographs of the American gay and lesbian literary community appear in his groundbreaking book Particular Voices: Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers, published by MIT Press in 1997. Giard’s stated mission was to define the literary history and cultural identity of gays and lesbians for the mainstream of American society, which perceived them as disparate, marginal individuals possessing neither. In all, he photographed more than 600 writers. (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/digital
More Particular Voices at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Particular Voices
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