Paula Vogel: Biography & Plays

Instructor: Susan Nagelsen

Susan has directed the writing program in undergraduate colleges, taught in the writing and English departments, and criminal justice departments.

Paula Vogel, a highly influential feminist playwright, is known for addressing issues such as AIDS, domestic abuse, and female sexuality. She fights to change the way women are portrayed in theater.

Childhood and Education

Paula Vogel was born in Washington, DC in 1951. After her parents divorced when she was thirteen, her mom moved her and her brother from apartment to apartment between Washington, DC, and Baltimore, MD. When she was seventeen she came out as a lesbian. She began her college career at Bryn Mar, but transferred to Catholic University of America, where she received her BA in 1974. From there she was off to Cornell for graduate school, but she left after three years without finishing her dissertation.

After leaving school, she worked at the American Place Theater for a year before returning to Cornell, where she taught from 1979-1982. In 1985 she took on the directorship of the MFA program in playwriting at Brown University. She became an adjunct professor at the Yale School of Drama and Playwright-in-Residence at Yale Repertory Theatre in 2008. She chaired the playwriting department at Yale until 2012.

Paula Vogel
Paula Vogel

Beginning of Career and First Successes

While she was in school and teaching, she was writing plays. Her first play, Meg, was produced at the Kennedy Center, in Washington, DC, in 1977 while she was still in college. Meg was awarded the American College Theater Festival Award for best new play. This play, based on Meg More Roper, gives the audience a look at Sir Thomas More through his daughter's eyes. The next play to hit the stage for Vogel was Apple Brown Betty, which was produced by the Actors Theater of Louisville in 1979.

When these plays were produced, Vogel was still a relative unknown. That all changed for her when her comedy-drama, The Baltimore Waltz, a play about the AIDS pandemic, hit the stage in 1992. This was her true coming-out party as a playwright, winning her an OBIE Award for best play.

It was How I Learned to Drive that made the biggest splash in the theater world. When it was produced in 1997 it was awarded numerous prizes including a Pulitzer Prize , the Drama Desk Award, Outter Critics Awards, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, and OBIE Awards. It was the most produced play in the country. Her next major play, And Baby Makes Seven, was not successful with the critics, but it did serve to seal her place as a major playwright in the feminist and gay communities.


Vogel is a playwright who maintains a strong social voice through the work she brings to the stage. She frequently uses a Brechtian style, which is an epic drama that asks the audience to use reflective detachment rather than emotional involvement. The best example seen of this is in How I Learned to Drive where she uses three Greek Choruses: Male, Female, and Teenage. These characters comment on the action in the play.

She has many plays to her credit, but all have one thing in common: they attempt to bring controversial social issues to the stage to engage audiences and further conversation on topics that have been seen as taboo. She enjoys writing characters that will get a rise out of the audience; they are not always flattering characters, but they will make you think.

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