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The avant-garde playwright Maria Irene Fornes

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Today we will celebrate the life of Cuban-American innovative and avant-guard playwright in our Women’s Issues series.

María Irene Fornés

Marie Irene Fornes was part of the great 1960s off Broadway movement. She brought spice and life to the theater focusing on poverty and feminism.

The early life of Maria Irene Fornes

Fornes was born in Haiti in 1930. When her father died in 1945 the family moved to the United States. Like many immigrants Maria Irene Fornes started working in a factory. She really didn’t like it and decided to learn English in order to improve her skills. She was so good at her new language that she become a translator.

By the time she was 19 she developed a love for painting. In 1954 she met Harriet Sohmers a noted artist model and writer; the two became lovers. Fornes moved to Paris to study painting and to live with Sohmers. She lived with Harriet for three years. Fornes loved the play Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett even though she could not understand the French language. It was this play that inspired her to look towards playwriting as a career.

The career of María Irene Fornés

In 1957 when Maria and her lover moved back to New York, Fornes began a seven year affair with Susan Sontag a feminist, advocate, and writer whom we have recently covered in this series. While together they encouraged each other to write. Both women were beginning to make their mark on women’s issues and feminism. Fornes began writing plays in 1961.

Maria Irene Fornes’s 1964 play called Tango Palace established her writing style focusing mainly on character. This play also established her avant-garde style. Her following play The Successful Life of 3 and Promenade brought her an Obie Award in 1965.

Fefu and Her Friends (1977)… 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.”

Marie Irene Fornes won an Obie Award for The Danube (1982), Mud (1983) and Sarita (1984). Mud was criticized for being negative and pessimistic. However, it dealt with a slice of life that needed to be explored. Here is where Maria Irene Fornes disagrees with the criticism though the environment is one of disparity she was not implying that there is no hope, her plot was just one possibility. Her plays have a common theme of women rising from the oppression of men. Marie Irene Fornes is both celebrated in English and the Hispanic community and is a feminist icon.

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