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Edward Albee was born on March 12, 1928, in Washington, DC. He was adopted in infancy by millionaire Reed Albee, the son of a famous vaudeville producer who introduced Edward to the theater at an early age. Albee battled with his stepmother throughout his childhood. She wanted to make him a respectable member of high society, while he wanted to keep company with artists, intellectuals, and homosexuals. Albee hated school. He left college at the age of twenty and moved to New York to pursue his writing career. There he met Thorton Wilder, who encouraged the then poet and prose writer to begin writing for the stage. Albee lived in Greenwich Village and supported himself through number of menial jobs, working as a messenger boy and record salesman, among other jobs. In 1959, his play The Zoo Story premiered in Berlin together with Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape.
In the history of drama, Albee has been canonized as the primary American practitioner of what critic Martin Esslin has termed the "Theater of the Absurd." Encompassing the work of playwrights as disparate and divergent as Beckett, Ionesco, Genet, and Pinter, the term "absurdism" refers to a dramatic movement, strongly influenced by Existentialism, that emerged from Europe during the mid-twentieth century. Absurdist plays dispense with conventional notions of character, plot, action, and setting in favor of deliberately unrealistic methods. Plays of the absurdist movement examine the absurdity of the human condition and expose the experiences of alienation, insanity, and despair inherent in modernity. According to Esslin, Albee's The American Dream (1960) marks the beginning of American absurdist drama. Though the work was generally well-received, a number of critics attacked the play for its immorality, nihilism, and defeatism. Their attacks implicitly suggested that a good play must be morally uplifting, inspiring, and redemptive. Albee responded passionately to his critics in a preface to the play, defending The American Dream as "an examination of the American Scene, an attack on the substitution of artificial for real values in our society, a condemnation of complacency, cruelty, emasculation, and vacuity; it is a stand against the fiction that everything in this slipping land of ours is peachy-keen."
In 1962, Albee won international acclaim for his play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, a tale of sadistic wrangling between a failed academic and his wife. The play received a Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize nomination. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was particularly bold in returning explicitly socio-political criticism to the mainstream stage in a moment when the theatrical establishment had been reduced to silence by the McCarthy witch- hunts. Albee went on to win Pulitzers in 1966 and 1975 for A Delicate Balance and Seascape respectively. After a lull in the 1980s, Albee found more success in 1994 with Three Tall Women, which won him his third Pulitzer as well as the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and Outer Circle Best Play Award. In September 2016, Albee died, aged 88, at his home in Montauk, New York.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The American Dream!