Kindergarten Teacher Takes Home a Pulitzer

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Margaret Edson's artistic side can be seen not only in her Pulitzer-Prize-winning play, "Wit," but also in her kindergarten classroom in Georgia--hundreds of miles from the off-Broadway theater where her critically acclaimed work has been playing to sold-out audiences.

"She uses so much drama in the classroom--a lot of songs and dances," said Cynthia Kuhlman, the principal of Centennial Place Elementary School in Atlanta, where Ms. Edson, 37, teaches.

"We're just extremely excited for her, to have accomplished so much at such a young age," Ms. Kuhlman said last week after this year's Pulitzer winners were announced. "Most of all we're proud because she's a wonderful teacher."

"Wit," the first play Ms. Edson has written, won the Pulitzer Prize for drama. The play about a literature professor's battle with ovarian cancer opened at the MCC Theatre in Manhattan last September and later moved to the 499-seat Union Square Theatre.

"Wit" premiered in 1995 at South Coast Repertory, a theater in Costa Mesa, Calif., where it won six Los Angeles Drama Critics Awards, including Best World Premiere. When it moved to the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Conn., it received three Connecticut Drama Critics Awards, including Best Play.

Inspired Work

Written in 1991, "Wit" was inspired by Ms. Edson's work as a clerk in an AIDS-oncology unit at a Washington-area research hospital.

She grew up in the nation's capital and attended the private Sidwell Friends School there, where she graduated with Derek Anson Jones, who is directing her play.

In 1983, Ms. Edson earned a degree in history from Smith College in Northampton, Mass., and in 1992, she received a master's degree in English from Georgetown University in Washington. She has been an elementary school teacher for seven years and taught school in Washington before moving to Atlanta last year.

Centennial Place Elementary, which opened this school year, serves a predominantly low-income neighborhood near downtown Atlanta.

After winning the Pulitzer, Ms. Edson told the news media that she intends to continue teaching and that she hasn't--and won't--let her success as a playwright interfere with her job as an educator.

In fact, when her play opened in New York City last year, Ms. Edson took only one personal day from work to attend the premiere, Ms. Kuhlman said.

"She keeps it very much to herself," she added. "Her teaching is her first priority."

So while other Pulitzer Prize winners were popping champagne corks last week, Ms. Edson and her colleagues were preparing for something a little more appropriate for 5-year-olds.

"We're going to celebrate today with some cake and ice cream," Ms. Kuhlman said.

Vol. 18, Issue 32, Page 5

Published in Print: April 21, 1999, as Kindergarten Teacher Takes Home a Pulitzer
Related Stories
Web Resources
  • Read the transcript of an interview with Margaret Edson, "Love and Knowledge," April 15, 1999, from the Online Newshour with Jim Lehrer.
  • Read the history of the Pulitzer Prize, and the rest of 1999 Pulitzer winners.
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