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Pulitzer winner discusses setting

March 20, 2003

By Marion Hixon

'As a writer, a playwright, a screenwriter, I hope always to establish a true sense of place in my work,' said Horton Foote, distinguished American playwright and Pulitzer Prize winner. Foote spoke to a crowd of more than 200 admirers Wednesday afternoon in Jesse H. Jones Theatre of the Hooper-Schaefer Fine Arts Center. His speech, 'Writing with a Sense of Place,' covered his experiences as a playwright but mostly focused on the importance of characters and setting in a story.

'The reason I came to the lecture today was because he is a man who has lived the things I can only read about,' Marissa Marchioni, a Midland sophomore, said.

Many of Foote's plays take place in the small Texas town of Harrison, which he says is a pseudonym for Wharton, where he was born and reared.

'I grew up in a town where I was kin to many of them [town citizens], through blood or marriage or friendship ...,' Foote said.

The settings of Wharton, its citizens and its accent all are worked into his plays, which inspired Wharton Dance, a one-act play written before his first full-length play, Texas Town. A former acting teacher initially interested Foote in becoming a playwright when she asked if he had ever been interested in writing. When Foote asked what he should write about, she responded by telling him to 'write what you know.'

He did exactly that and amazed actors, audiences and readers with his brilliant and personal stories.

Foote referred to realizing the characteristic of change. 'Change was an early acquaintance in my life... These nine plays [The Orphans' Home Cycle] are about change unexpected, unasked for, but to be faced and dealt with...,' he said.

Foote has been named the Visiting Distinguished Dramatist for Baylor's Theater Arts Department this school year.

The Horton Foote American Playwrights Festival is set to occur in 2004 and will include performances and an award for an accomplished playwright in Foote's honor.

The two Academy Awards Foote received were for To Kill a Mockingbird and Tender Mercies. He also was awarded the William Inge Lifetime Achievement Award and a Pulitzer Prize for his play The Young Man From Atlanta.