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A Promising Playwright's Summer Authors

At just 33, playwright Sarah Ruhl has already been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, won the MacArthur Genius Grant and had several of her plays produced on the country's most important stages.

But she still finds time to read Goodnight Moon.

Ruhl, a new mother and one of the country's most promising young playwrights, draws inspiration from a tall book stack. From nighttime readings to one-year-old, Anna, to the prose of her hero, playwright Adrienne Kennedy, Ruhl takes time to absorb the words and ideas of an eclectic group of authors.

A Chicago native, Ruhl was a poet majoring in English at Brown University when her mentor, playwright Paula Vogel, steered her to the stage. From there, her career blossomed.

Among other works, she wrote her play Eurydice at Brown, which is now playing at the 2econd Stage Theatre in New York. Her plays have also been produced at Lincoln Center, the Actor's Centre, London and the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, among others.

She spoke with Liane Hansen about what's on her reading list this summer.

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Transcript

LIANE HANSEN, host:

This week our summer reader is playwright Sarah Ruhl. Her work, "The Clean House" was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2005. She received the MacArthur Genius Grant in 2006 and Ruhl's play "Eurydice" is now running in New York. Welcome to the program.

Ms. SARAH RUHL (Playwright): Thank you so much.

HANSEN: So what are you reading now?

Ms. RUHL: I just finished "The Curtain" by Milan Kundera, which is wonderful.

HANSEN: "The Curtain: An Essay in Seven Parts." What's it about?

Ms. RUHL: It's about the history of the novel. So he talks about things like can a novel be based on a joke? And I think he takes you in precisely the way he feels and experience them such as so you're having a conversation with this great man of ideas over tea. And, you know, he has a lightness of touch about serious matters that I find completely - I have a crush on him. That's all I can say.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: You're allowed. What do you want to read next?

Ms. RUHL: Just have been dipping into "The Adrienne Kennedy Reader." Beautiful prose piece called "A Letter to Flowers."

HANSEN: Tell us a little bit about her.

Ms. RUHL: Adrienne Kennedy, she's just my hero. She wrote "A Movie Star has to Star in Black and White," and "Funny House of the Negro." She's like an impressionist on the stage.

HANSEN: So a playwright. So you're looking to her for sort of inspiration?

Ms. RUHL: Yeah. And I suppose having had my own child about a year ago, I was interested in her thoughts on motherhood and someone asked her sort of how did you have time to do both and she just keep saying I don't know. I don't know how I did it.

HANSEN: Are you reading to your daughter?

Ms. RUHL: "Goodnight Moon" is a favorite. "Chicka Chicka ABC" is a favorite. My husband tried to read (unintelligible) to get her to sleep the other night and that didn't go for so long.

HANSEN: If you had all the time in the world, what would you be reading?

Ms. RUHL: I think I would re-read all of Shakespeare's work. I would be reading the complete journals - Katherine Mansfield who's one of my heroes and her complete journal just came out. And I would read lots of Agatha Christie novels...

HANSEN: Ha.

Ms. RUHL: ...on the beach.

HANSEN: That sounds wonderful.

Ms. RUHL: Yeah.

HANSEN: Is there a big book you've never read that you might want to tackle?

Ms. RUHL: I would love to tackle "Ulysses" - James Joyce's "Ulysses" someday. I do have Irish blood running through my veins so at some point you feel like you have to tackle "Ulysses."

HANSEN: A lot of people say they want to read "Ulysses" if they had all the time in the world.

Ms. RUHL: Yeah. And that makes me wonder if it requires immortality that actually read the thing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RUHL: Which is how I feel about Henry James.

HANSEN: Sarah, thanks a lot. Good reading.

Ms. RUHL: Thank you so much.

HANSEN: Our summer reader Sarah Ruhl. She's a playwright. Her books include "The Clean House," "Dead Man's Cell Phone" and "Passion Play," which opens this September in Chicago.

This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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