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American Dream | Study Guide

Edward Albee

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Edward Albee | Biography


Edward Albee was born on March 12, 1928, in Washington, DC, and then adopted 18 days later by Reed and Frances Albee, an affluent couple known for their connection to a chain of family-owned vaudeville theaters. When they adopted Edward, Reed and Frances were making a very good living raising and showing saddle horses, which took them out of New York City and into the suburbs. Albee's relationship with his parents was never a close one, and he had an immense dislike of his mother, whom he felt was a cold, unloving, and domineering woman. By all accounts Albee was an unhappy child, and he was expelled from three private schools before landing at Choate in Wallingford, Connecticut. It was there he began writing plays, novels, and poems and settled on a career as a writer. This career choice only exacerbated tensions in the family since his parents wanted him to become something "respectable," like a doctor or a lawyer.

Albee attended Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, upon graduating from Choate, but he was expelled in his second year for failing to attend classes and other required assemblies. He left home and moved to Greenwich Village in New York City, where he joined other artists experimenting with literature, visual arts, and music. Albee's first successful one-act play, The Zoo Story, was originally produced in Berlin, Germany, in 1959; it premiered in the United States in 1960, where it earned him an Obie Award. With fame knocking on his door, Albee wrote two more successful one-act plays, The Sandbox (1959) and The American Dream (1961).

The American Dream was heavily influenced by Albee's own upbringing and offers a searing portrayal of life in a loveless home occupied by people who seem to have little purpose in life. Though audiences flocked to the 370-performance run of the play, critical response was mixed, as some felt its message about the corruption of the so-called American dream was too pessimistic.

Albee went on to write many full-length plays, including his breakthrough hit Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962). A Delicate Balance (1966), Seascape (1975), and Three Tall Women (1994) were all awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and cemented Albee as one of the most influential American playwrights of the ages before his death on September 16, 2016.

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