We are the product of our roots, roots that reach down through the centuries of our families' existence. Sometimes, it seems, our destinies have been written in stone for us. The artists and writers of other generations have left their marks on us. Roots fascinate me.
Each year, when I visit my Australian family in Melbourne, there is one landmark I can't wait to see. It's the towering old Red River gum tree that stands on the property directly facing my family's home. Its age can only be guessed at—two hundred years at least--with a magnificent old trunk that reaches heavenward and a crown of leaves that bears red whispery flowers when it blooms. A habitat tree, it's the home of many birds including the colorfully arrayed rainbow lorikeeets. Possums and other small creatures hang out in its foliage at night, nightly migrating bats brush their wings against it. I have seen the Red River gum in drought, with its trunk dusty and forlorn, when its very survival seemed in question. Now the rain has returned and the thirsty old tree is drinking its fill, irrigating its ancient roots. Bush trees, some are treasured by Aboriginals as meeting places. Mainly they grow along water sources and were once more plentiful. Much scarcer now—like us, trees die of old age--they are on the National Trust List, one of Australia's longest lasting, fascinating pieces of history.
And what of my family tree's roots? Nourished by writers on both sides of the family, the Scottish and Irish, as far back as we can trace. I'm grateful for that. There's nothing I would rather be. In first grade, I wrote a sentence that began with an adjectival clause. My teacher told me I was destined to be a writer. I already knew that.
I was born in Scotland, of an Irish mother and Scottish father. Came to Chicago in 1947, at the age of 21. Worked in publishing as an editor/writer until the early 1980s, freelancing from 1968 until I retired from publishing.
From the age of 12, I was a theatre buff, but in the mid-1970s I wrote my first play and had it produced. Heady stuff. From then on, playwriting was to dominate my life, allowing, lately, for the addition of one finished novel, another in progress, and several short poems and stories. Three more plays are in stages of completion.
My work is politically motivated and wide-ranging, character driven with emphasis on the woman's point of view, often with humor and wit. The plays usually have a
personal base though writ larger. Arranged by theme, they are as follows:
My late sister Jo and her daughter Anne.
The Cairn Stones at Bailiwick
Repertory in Chicago.
Website designed by Dwight Okita Visit dwightland.homestead.com
My mother's home, an Irish island, provides the inspiration for two plays, The Cairn Stones and Oona and the Oyster Girl, as well as my first novel, Dancing on Ashes. An Orkney Island off Scotland's north coast is the setting for Wrens, seven young women, wrens, in WWII, my most personal, popular, award-winning play. The Children's War, dealing with the evacuation of very young children from British cities immediately prior to WWII, is set in Edinburgh and its surrounds. Anna: The Emperor's Nightingale is set in Hollywood, London, and China. It's the story of Anna May Wong, born in California of Chinese parents, beautiful and talented, but destined in her films to play mostly dragon-lady roles and speak pidgin English.
Plays with a political-religious theme include Conspiracy of Silence: The Magdalene Laundries, about the brutal treatment of young girls by an Irish order of nuns. The Children's War, Catholic children evacuated to a Scots Presbyterian village immediately prior to WWII. Also, two plays in the works,
Dandelions, about elderly nuns living in poverty in a convent in the slums, and Saints and Sinners, a “confrontation” between Mary MacKillop, newly canonized Australian nun, and a present-day American nun dealing with an emissary from the Vatican deputized to bring American nuns back into their convents instead of living in communities where they are of much-needed help to the poor, the homeless and forgotten.
WAR: GLOBAL, CIVIL, AND DOMESTIC
War is a common thread through my writing. Wrens, The Children's War, and a collaborative piece, Radiance of a Thousand Suns: The Hiroshima Project, all address issues of global war. Also, civil war, Bags, about the recent civil war in Northern Ireland. And domestic wars, The Cairn Stones, Amanda, a monologue from a woman who killed her child, and Alice and Margo, comedy, two women discuss their marriages—was it murder? Also Swallow the Moon, bullying at a private high school in Melbourne, Australia, with Macbeth as the backdrop.
The Poppy Garden is an absurdist play about breast cancer.
A grateful thank-you to the generosity of Dwight Okita, highly imaginative poet, film-maker, and novelist, who designed this website, contributed the pictures and guided me through the maze of required text.