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Caryl Churchill | Biography

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Caryl Churchill was born September 3, 1938, in London, England. Her family immigrated to Montreal, Canada, when she was 10, but Churchill returned to London in 1957 to study English at the University of Oxford's Lady Margaret Hall, where she wrote her first three plays. She continued to write after graduation, penning plays for BBC radio during the 1960s and early 1970s while simultaneously raising her family. Next she wrote stage plays. Churchill spent many years in partnership with the Royal Court, a theater company focused on developing the voices of emerging writers.

A collaboration between Churchill and the Royal Court's Joint Stock Theatre Group, which is well known for actors, writers, and directors working together to research and share their experiences about a particular theme or idea, developed Cloud 9 (1979). The initial group workshop spanned three weeks, followed by a 12-week writing period for Churchill, then six weeks of rehearsal. The process resulted in a gender-bending exploration of sexual politics as viewed through the lens of Victorian colonialism and modern-day relationships. The topic and its presentation proved to be divisive among critics and audiences, sparking conversation and analysis that continues to this day; but it solidified Churchill as a talented writer with a distinct voice.

Churchill is famously reticent about discussing her craft, and she has refused all interviews since the late 1980s. Collaborators indicate that she prefers for her plays, many of which feature women whose desires combat a society structured to champion men, to speak for themselves. Beyond her feminist themes, her plays characteristically contain succinct, striking dialogue, inventive staging, and gifted collaboration efforts. According to one colleague, "Her reputation may be lower than it should be because she has chosen to stay in the background."

Despite her disdain of personal promotion, Churchill is the recipient of numerous theater awards, including three Susan Smith Blackburn Prizes for women playwrights and four Obies, the American Theatre Wing's award for off-Broadway theater. One of her Obies recognizes her full body of work. She was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 2010.

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