Your favorite playwright might have written a novel!
There is often a significant divide between the theatre world and the literary fiction world, so while it’s not often the chosen medium for the theatre-maker, when a playwright takes to the page to pen a work of literary fiction, their signature artistry shines through as it does on the stage.
These 10 playwrights (and three actors) apply their approach to artistic observance of the human condition to literature. This list features fiction for adults with a couple of suggestions for young adults and children. The list mainly consists of contemporary writers, but there are a few suggested novels by playwrights of the modern era who are no longer with us. See if you can spot the same stylistic choices these writers make in their books as they do in their plays.
We Play Ourselves by Jen Silverman
Silverman applies her quick wit and characteristic ennui to a story about a playwright who makes all the wrong moves. This blogger’s favorite in this list!
Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar
Wrestling with the knowledge that his Pakistani father provided medical care for Donald Trump, among many other personal reflections on identity and purpose, Akhtar weaves vignettes into his debut novel which functions like a narrative memoir.
Focus by Arthur Miller
Miller, famous for his contribution to the canon of American mid-century drama, wrote his first novel as a confrontation of American antisemitism.
Getting Mother's Bodyby Suzan Lori Parks
Parks is one of the most decorated living playwrights writing today. She often writes on race as a driving factor in social construction. She is the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama. In Getting Mother's Body, Parks's retelling of William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying set against the backdrop of Texas during the civil rights movement, features an African American family.
Squadby Jack (Mariah) MacCarthy
When a cheerleader is excluded by the rest of her squad, she starts to wonder if the squad are her real friends—or if it’s all inside her head. MacCarthy’s debut YA novel is a great addition to MacCarthy’s portfolio of dark comedies. MacCarthy is a trans non-binary writer, and their plays and other pieces often reflect on the LGBTQIA experience.
The Castle Cross the Magnet Carterby Kia Corthron
Corthron is a prolific playwright, who often writes on both global and local socio-political issues. This novel, about two sets of brothers spanning events from World War II to the 1980s, is a powerful testament to literature as a medium for epic storytelling constructed in ways the theatre cannot do. True to her signature style of reflecting on political moments through solid dialogue and foundational relationships, Corthron’s epic tale is a coming of age story, and a full-fledged epic novel. See also Moon and the Mars by Corthron.
White Elephantby Trish Harnetiaux
Harnetiaux, a Brooklyn-based playwright and podcast creator, wrote the Christmas horror novel of your dreams—I mean, nightmares! At an office holiday party, murder and blackmail ensue over a game of white elephant.
The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder
Known for plays like The Skin of Our Teeth and Our Town, Wilder’s novel—which won him his first Pulitzer Prize—about a group of people on a bridge that collapses, is about the drama bad things happening to innocent people. Wilder grapples with the meaning of life both on and off the stage. If you haven’t read this classic literary fiction piece, I highly recommend it.
Some People, Some Other Place by J. “California” Cooper
With influences from Black writers of the Harlem Renaissance, Cooper—who passed away in 2014—was known for crafting Black female characters in kinship against an unjust and inequitable world. Unlike the other writers in this list, Cooper was mostly a novelist but started off her career as a playwright, and won awards early in her career. According to her obituary in The New York Times, Alice Walker convinced Cooper to write short stories and novels. Some People, Some Other Place, is about a Black family and their attempt to make it North. When their daughter finally makes it to Chicago, she finds the North much tougher than she imagined.
Donald Duk by Frank Chin
Chin’s novel about a 2nd generation Chinese American 12-year-old boy who would rather be a dancing movie star than live his life in his community grapples with racial identity and unlearning self-hatred. Chin is considered a pioneer of Asian American theatre, and he is known for writing plays and stories based on traditional Chinese folklore as a means of undoing harmful stereotypes. See also, Born in the USA, a novel about Japanese American resistance to the draft in WWII. Both Born in the USA and Donald Duk are available for onsite use only.
BONUS! 3 Novels Written by Actors
Fearless by Mandy Gonzalez
Gonzalez is known for originating the role of Nina Rosario in the award winning musical In the Heights. Her debut children’s fiction book unravels the mystery of a ghost in the Ethel Merman theatre. Only 12-year-old Monica Garcia and her fellow actors can reverse the curse and appease the ghost!
The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie
Laurie, known for his role in the hit TV show House, MD, and for his half of the comedy duo Fry and Laurie with Stephen Fry, among other roles, has contributed to the canon of British crime novels with The Gun Seller, about a reluctant Scotland Yard officer embroiled in a mystery involving international law enforcement.
Shopgirlby Steve Martin
Anyone following Martin’s career is familiar with his status as a Renaissance man. Martin’s novella is about a high-end retail worker who entertains the advances of two bachelors in order to avoid feeling lonely. Witty and sweet, while simultaneously observant of the darkness of life.