Chuck Mee: I graduated from college in 1960 wanting to write plays. And my plays were done at the old La MaMa, before its present location, and at Café Cino, and at Theatre Genesis. And we did a play upstairs at the Ontological at St. Mark's that was mocked by Jerry Talmer in the New York Post. Not panned, but mocked. And that was devastating to me. Twenty years later he wrote a piece about me, about a book I had written, and I went to meet him at the Post and he reached into his pocket and pulled out an old clipping, and he said "You probably don't remember this," and I said "I remember every word of it. It's one of the reasons I stopped writing plays for 25 years."
So I had a general sense that I wasn't succeeding in writing for the theatre. And at the same time I had gotten increasingly caught up in anti-Vietnam war activities, which led to political art, which led to political writing, which led to historical writing, and in a way I got caught up in a political argument that I couldn't extricate myself from. And I spent 20 years writing political history books that were essentially about the behavior of America in the world and how that came home to damage life and politics in America. And I had a family to support. And I didn't know how to step off that life. I didn't understand how to honor the obligations I had to support my family, while making a career in the theatre.
I came back to writing theatre in 1982 or '83. I had been trying to write a novel, and I had been living off credit cards and I had no money. Finally I received a pink piece of paper saying that the sheriff 's office was going to auction off all my furniture for the nonpayment of back taxes. And I framed that piece of paper because I thought: "This is the low point." So I had gotten behind, and I looked at the novel and realized it was absolute junk. It was dead. So I took the pieces of paper out to a trash can, and I threw them away. And then I thought: that was stupid, because there were things in there that I wanted to remember for myself, for my own writing. So I decided to make some notes on some of this stuff, and the notes took the form of a trilogy of one-act plays, which I wrote in 10 days. And I looked at them and thought, Oh, I get it: if you're just writing for yourself, for your own sake, to understand your own life, to have it be clear, to know what you think and feel and to be able to remember it clearly, this is the form it takes. So that's when I went back to writing plays.
But I understood, once I had gotten back into writing for the theatre, that my only job was to write for myself and not for anyone else, and that I had to write what I felt was true and what felt good to me, and just have the confidence that it might feel good to somebody else.
1938 Born in Evanston, IL
1960 Graduated from Harvard College with a BA in English Literature
1960 Took a job on Wall Street that lasted for a year
1961 Started work at American Heritage publishing company, eventually became the editor of Horizon magazine
1962 Constantinople Smith, Anyone! Anyone! and Player's Repertoire, directed by Stephen Aaron, produced at the Writers' Stage Company
1963 The Gate produced by Theatre Genesis at St. Mark's in the Bowery
Advising Editor and then Contributing Editor of TDR until 1964; Associate Editor of TDR from 1964 to 1965
1964 Player's Repertoire produced at La MaMa E.T.C.
God Bless Us, Every One published in TDR 10, 1 (T29):162-206
1965 Turned from writing plays to writing books
1969 Lorenzo De'Medici and the Renaissance, the first of...