Rebecca Claire Gilman (1964- ) is an award-winning playwright from Trussville, Jefferson County, whose work is set in the Deep South and other regions of the United States. Her plays touch on controversial elements of contemporary American society and the issues and dilemmas people face in their daily lives. She also aims to create noteworthy drama that is both easily understood by the audience and of literary merit. Her work has earned her a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Prince Prize for Commissioning New Work, a Pulitzer Prize nomination, and the 2008 Harper Lee Award for distinguished writing. Her plays have been performed in numerous cities in the United States and in several foreign countries.
Gilman was born in Birmingham, Jefferson County, in 1964 to Steve and Marilyn Gilman and has a brother and two sisters. She attended Hewitt Elementary and the Altamont School and enjoyed writing creatively in her early years and continued to write fiction throughout high school. At the age of 18, Gilman wrote her first play for the Dramatists Guild of America's Young Playwright Festival; it was chosen for production in New York. She attended Middlebury College in Vermont for two years, returned to Alabama, and graduated from Birmingham-Southern College in 1987 with a bachelor's degree in English. She then received a master of arts degree in English from the University of Virginia and later a master of fine arts (MFA) in playwriting from the Iowa Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa in 1991.
Gilman moved to Chicago in 1994. She worked in educational testing and held a series of temporary jobs until the success of her play The Glory of Living (1999) won her international acclaim. She has been a resident playwright at the Chicago Dramatists theatre and beginning in 2006 has been an assistant professor of playwriting and screenwriting in the MFA program at Northwestern University. Gilman has been awarded both the George Devine Award and the Evening Standard Award for Most Promising Playwright, the first American to receive either award. She was named a finalist for the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for her play The Glory of Living.
Gilman's plays have been produced in many venues and have received many accolades. Spinning Into Butter (2000), which explores themes of racism, premiered at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago and later played in New York at the Lincoln Center Theatre and at regional theaters across the country, receiving a Joseph Jefferson Award for Best New Play, as well as the Roger L. Stevens Award from the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays. It was included in TIME magazine's list of Best New Plays for 1999 and was produced as a film in 2007, under the direction of Mark Brokaw and starring Sarah Jessica Parker. Boy Gets Girl (2000), which explores sexual harassment and stalking, was included in The Best Plays of 2000-1, being named by TIME magazine as the number one play of the year in 2000. It has been widely produced throughout the United States. The Glory of Living has been produced in New York City, Vienna, Austria, and London, England. Other works include A True History of the Johnstown Flood, War, The American in Me, The Crime of the Century, Blue Surge, The Sweetest Swing in Baseball, Dollhouse, The Crowd You're In With, The Land of Little Horses, My Sin, and Nothing More.
Two of Gilman's works have had direct links to the South. The Glory of Living mirrors the story of Judith Neelley and her husband Alvin who went on a heinous crime spree in 1982 that involved the murders
of two young women, one of whom was killed in Fort Payne, DeKalb County. Whereas the newspaper accounts painted Judith as a monster with no human qualities, Gilman's play delves into the character
of a similar female protagonist and the dynamics of how she becomes a serial killer. Newspaper accounts of the actual crime
also described the symptoms of the ills of contemporary society, but Gilman attempts to define the disease itself. Gilman
has stated publicly that the United States doesn't need optimism, so much of her work encourages the audience to look critically
at the prejudices and misconceptions in American society. Later, Gilman adapted Carson McCullers's 1940 book set in Georgia,
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, for the Acting Company of New York. After opening in Atlanta in 2001, the play had a three-city Alabama tour consisting
of Talladega, Auburn, and Birmingham, and was produced in fall 2009 at the New York Theatre Workshop in New York City.
Phillips, Gin. "Stage Presence." First Draft 14 (Spring 2008): 4-6.
Selected Works by Gilman
The Glory of Living (1999)
Boy Gets Girl (2000)
Spinning Into Butter (2000)
Anita Miller Garner
University of North Alabama
Published March 29, 2011
Last updated August 9, 2012