I was raised in a small town on the Great Plains, a sere, windblown, treeless place where the weather was mean and capricious, truck radios were tuned to the agricultural reports and the only live theater was the senior class play. Thanks to the largesse of the otherwise rapacious Andrew Carnegie, however, we had a public library, a building remarkably humble considering the treasures it held within, an institution that can still moisten my eyes with gratitude when I remember it. It was there, if not at my mother's knee, that I became aware that I had a love for words. They seemed to me beings animated not by the author's manipulations, but from within themselves, like jumping beans, with lives and histories and imports all their own. Worn smooth and harmless on the surface by usage, they often possessed a sharp, sly, subversive underside of meaning piled mille-feuille upon meaning going all the way back to the Greek, the Sanskrit, the Gaelic. If one treated them with due respect, they would even take on new significance according to the user. With cajoling one could make them dance and sing. I took to vocabulary with a glutton's hunger that age has not diminished; I still get lost in the dictionary, reading the entries above and below the one I seek, following trails and connections like golden threads spun through all the history and geography and knowledge of mankind. There may be things that people know that they have not put a name to in the English language, but not many.
There was encouragement, of course–from my parents, my teachers, even from the occasional friend who made a fuss–enough so that in time I wrote because I was told I could write. My pleasure had become my craft and even then I realized how lucky that made me in a world where most toil from necessity, not choice. Just exactly what I would write was not yet determined, but I assumed it would be the stories and novels that enchanted me in the library. And then, as the British put it, I was gob-smacked. Well into my teenage years and already bubbling and boiling with an expectation that life was about to start, I saw my first professionally acted play. The words, the words, the glorious downpouring, cascading, Niagra of words. Actors raging and cooing and falling in love and swooning with emotion and collapsing in tragic, garrulous, jabbering mounds of theatrical death. Country youth that I was, I gaped at the sheer verbosity of it all. I was transfixed, I was transformed. Not to sound too much a Wildean effete, it changed my life.Certain that I had found my calling I left the prairie and went to New York where I ran into an unpleasant jolt of reality. Then as now getting a play produced without connections or leverage or the assistance of an ethnic or old school or mutual interest group–or best of all, a rich and indulgent family--is very close to impossible. More talent has been ignored and wasted and left by the wayside, lost to discouragement, starved by indifference, and scorned because the playwrights wore the wrong uniform of style or opinion or provenance, because they were not connected, they had no friend-of-a-friend in the theater who could help their script be, at the very least, read–the carnage of talent is worse than in any other industry I know of. A saner man would have given up–and most do. My defense was versatility. Armed with the hard won knack for crafting a story, I assailed Hollywood and publishing and found them easier fortifications to breast than the theater. By the time I had a play on Broadway I also had, in the same year, a novel being published and a film shown on television. To make a living I continued this way for many years, churning out polished trash for Hollywood, and novels that were euphemistically called "best-sellers" for readers in 14 languages. They didn't sell the best, but they sold well enough and so I was encouraged for 30 years to write books and screenplays of a genre that I wouldn't care to read or see, works that were only technically composed of words in much the same way that instruction manuals are composed of words. They were not the kind of words I wanted, they were not encouraged to dance and sing but simply to move the story forward. Writing for the theater became an indulgence, rather like a bad habit that I couldn't break. It was not precisely a hobby, but neither was it the focus of my attention or energy. Still, I carried the dream of it with me always, like the memory of one's first love, rosy-cheeked and sweetly virginal forever–even when one knows that reality is as unforgiving as the years. Now, finally, I have returned to that palace of words, words, words and with the myopic and indulgent eyes of the besotted, I find it as fresh and exciting as ever. As play wright in residence at this magnificent Playhouse I have promised myself to write nothing that can be shown on network television, nothing that I would not want to watch myself, nothing that I don't believe in. Nothing that isn't a tumult of exhilarating heart-felt words.