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Betty Carter

John Donne Meets The Runaway Bunny

Margaret Edson is equally at home in kindergarten and on Broadway.

When I first called Margaret Edson to arrange an interview, I had no idea that she was about to win the Pulitzer Prize for her play, Wit. Nor did many other people, I expect, since she was still answering her telephone. Back then (oh, all those six months ago) no one knew much about Margaret Edson apart from the apparently contradictory facts that she'd written a hit play on Broadway but spent most of her time teaching (gasp!) kindergarten in Atlanta. A few newspaper articles and TV appearances notwithstanding, Edson lingered in blissful obscurity. When asked by reporters about future plays, she replied maddeningly that she hadn't finished any others and didn't necessarily intend to. She had a whole school of other fish to fry: teaching kindergartners to read wasn't a pastime, it was her passion.

Next came the Pulitzer Prize, and with it a new level of public curiosity. Before interviewing Edson on the News Hour, Jim Lehrer admitted that they were old acquaintances (she having attended the famous Sidwell Friends School with his daughter in Washington, D.C.). Lehrer listened to the usual Edsonian declaration that she loved absolutely everything about teaching and did not plan to pursue a life as a writer. He responded with fatherly flabbergast: "You know how few people win the Pulitzer Prize. It's a really big deal, Margaret, if you don't know, then I'm going to tell. … This is not going to change your life at all?"

"Once the day starts in the classroom," she replied, undaunted, "the affairs of the outside world really do not come into it at all. The day in the class has its own momentum. And New Yorkers find this very hard to believe, but the intricacies of New York theater are not part of what we're doing down in kindergarten."

No, and thank God for it! But despite Margaret Edson's disavowal of literary ambitions, she remains the rather literate person who, in the summer of 1991, wrote a two and a half-hour play turning upon the intricacies of metaphysical poetry ...

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