The following feature story appeared in the campus publication MOSAIC in October, 1996.
Elizabeth Egloff '75
A voice of her ownWhen Elizabeth Egloff '75 first came to Trinity her ambition was to be an opera singer. Today, after 25 years and a circuitous journey through poetry, book publishing, soap opera scriptwriting, and teaching, she has developed one of the most distinctive voices in American culture. Instead of an operatic voice, however, hers is the voice of an award-winning playwright. "Writers tend to be late bloomers. It took me a long time to figure out what I wanted to do," she said.
The difficult process, Egloff believes, began years ago in a class at Trinity. Interested not only in music but also theater and poetry when she came to Trinity, the Hartford-area native said her operatic desires proved to be a "temporary obsession" that gave way when she realized that her music lessons were taking too much time from another obsession, her writing. Egloff discovered that writing was a permanent obsession while an undergraduate working as an editor of The Trinity Review. As a senior, her fervor carried her into a play writing class. "But I felt no click, or permanent connection," she said.
Two decades later the "click" has occurred. Egloff has found her voice, and it has resonated in theaters throughout this country as well as in Europe and Australia. Arthur Feinsod, playwright and associate professor of theater said, "She is recognized as one of the well-established playwrights in America today."
The path to her current status began while she was a student at Trinity. Egloff studied with professor of English and poet Hugh Ogden and developed a friendship with him that continues to this day. "He was the central figure in my education. His chief value was to keep demanding that I find something to say that was my own -- to create my own voice. He is passionate about each person having value and an individual voice," she said.
Ogden heaps equally lavish praise on his former student. "She was a hungry student. Her gifts are in language -- using it evocatively and powerfully. She is writing plays that are recognized as really on the cutting edge of American drama," he said.
As important as it was for Egloff to develop her voice, taking advantage of the breadth of experience offered by a liberal arts education like Trinity's was equally important, she now says. "A writer or artist needs to know where we're coming from and how we got here. Otherwise we're reduced to speculative reasoning about everything."
Firm in the conviction that she wanted to write, she worked in publishing in Boston before turning her sights to Providence where she further developed her talents in a play writing and poetry program at Brown University. It wasn't until she spent a brief time in New York writing for the popular soap opera Search for Tomorrow that she began seriously to consider writing a play.
Discovering women's voices
Returning to Boston in 1983 to teach screenwriting part-time at Emerson College, Egloff had her first opportunity to write a play. Up until that time, she believes she was not prepared for the medium. "I fundamentally thought of play writing as a male activity -- to take a confined space and tell people what to do and say. Since the '70s and early '80s, there's been an explosion of women playwrights. That has to do with the feminist movement. It's about the discovery of women's voices. Audiences realized that women had something to say," she said. After discovering the possibility of a distinctly female voice in the theater, she believed she was ready for the challenge and affirmation New Haven offered.
"I got it into my head that if I got into the Yale School of Drama, it would mean that I could become a playwright," she said. Following graduation from Yale in 1989, she had plays produced initially in Louisville and San Francisco and later in regional theaters from Baltimore to Honolulu. A 1994 recipient of the Lila Wallace Writer's Award, she has received grants from the Pew Charitable Trust, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the McKnight Foundation, among others. Next April, Hartford-area audiences will have the opportunity to hear her adaptation of Dostoyevsky's The Devils read at Trinity's "First Thursdays" program at the Old State House, "Playwrights, Past, Present, and Future." Egloff's very free adaptation of Dostoyevsky's novel is slated to open next February at the New York Theatre Workshop.
While preparing for the New York opening of The Devils this coming winter, she is busy adapting stories for television and preparing with her set designer husband, James Youmans, to take on yet another role, that of a parent for the first time. Does she find the prospect of such a demanding life daunting at this point in her life? "I'm very optimistic about the future. I'm definitely a late bloomer," says Egloff -- a late bloomer who has finally found her voice.
-- Suzanne Zack