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Who is Edward Albee?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 23, 2024
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Edward Albee is an American playwright, best known for his plays Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Sandbox, and The Zoo Story. He was born in 1928 in Virginia, and in his more than eighty years has written more than thirty plays, and won virtually every major award granted to a playwright.

Albee was adopted at the age of only a few weeks, taken in by Reed A. Albee, who christened the young boy Edward Albee after his own father, Edward Franklin Albee II, who owned many various vaudeville theatres throughout the country. Edward Franklin Albee II was, in fact, the first person to introduce the moving picture to the United States, and he made a fortune and a theatrical empire in the process, which he passed down to his son. Reed Albee, in turn, was a major mover in the theatre world, and it was in this world that young Edward Albee was raised.

He went through a number of schools in his young life, finally being expelled from the Lawrenceville School and being sent to military academy in Pennsylvania. He attended Trinity College in Connecticut, before being expelled for failing to attend chapel and a number of classes. For the next decade, Albee honed his craft, moving to Greenwich Village and working a number of odd jobs, including messenger for Western Union and record salesman. In 1958 he had his first play, The Zoo Story produced in Berlin.

The Zoo Story laid down the foundation for Edward Albee and his work, which he would continue to build upon for decades. In many ways, Edward Albee can be looked at as the first truly mainstream surrealist of American theatre. His work has a level of absurdism in it, always lingering just under the surface, which would go on to influence an entire generation of developing playwrights. Although he is often hailed as the philosophical successor to great American playwrights such as Eugene O’Neill or Tennessee Williams, in many ways he grew more out of the tradition of Harold Pinter or Samuel Beckett, Europeans who also tended to paint a veneer of normalcy over fundamentally absurdist developments.

From the time Albee won the Drama Desk Award for The Zoo Story his place in American theatre was certain. The next year, in 1959, he wrote three more plays, The Sandbox, The Death of Bessie Smith, and Fam and Yam, and in 1961 he wrote what is perhaps his most famous play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, for which he won his first Tony Award for Best Play. In 1967 he won his first Pulitzer Prize, for A Delicate Balance, followed shortly by another Pulitzer Prize in 1975 for Seascape, and eventually in 1994 by Three Tall Women. In 2002 he won another Tony Award for The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?, and in 2005 he was awarded a Special Tony for Lifetime Achievement.

Edward Albee has continued to write steadily throughout his life, and in 2004 he wrote a first act for his first produced play, The Zoo Story, entitled Homelife. The combination of the two acts is called Peter & Jerry and has been met with wide acclaim. Most recently, in 2007 he wrote Me, Myself, and I at the age of 79.

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Discussion Comments
By burcinc — On Feb 17, 2011

@turquoise-- No, not at all! You are right in thinking that but the play is about a middle aged couple and their angry verbal fight with each other. I haven't had the chance to see it myself but my dad saw the play at Longacre theatre and loved it. I remember he was quoting some of it for days.

I think there is a movie of it too. I might look for that instead of waiting for the play to show somewhere near me.

By turquoise — On Feb 14, 2011

Is Edward Albee's play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf really about Virginia Woolf, the writer?

By fify — On Feb 13, 2011

Edward Albee has not been producing very many works lately but he supports other artist in their works, and I think he is a great role model for that. He has a foundation named after himself, the Edward Albee foundation. Artists can apply for residency and have the chance to spend about a month writing or painting at a center near the Atlantic Ocean. Isn't this great? He doesn't offer financial assistance though, which I wish he did. Artists can be pretty short on cash as well as a place to work!

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