Playwright, scholar, educator, administrator. Jon Tuttle was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1959. He moved to New Mexico in the early 1960s and graduated from Manzano High School in Albuquerque in 1977. While working as a sports writer for the Daily Lobo and the Albuquerque Tribune, Tuttle enrolled at the University of New Mexico but left after one year, moving back to Utah and finishing his B.S. in Mass Communication at the University of Utah in 1982. Tuttle credits David Kranes, a professor of theater at the University of Utah, for sparking his interest in theater. As a student of Kranes, Tuttle wrote his first play Remembering Us, which received a staged reading by the Salt Lake Acting Company and which was later produced by the community theater Vortex in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
In 1983 Tuttle moved back to New Mexico and pursued graduate studies at the University of New Mexico. There, he worked with Bob Hartung, a professor of theater and the founder of Summerfest, a month-long theater festival that produced student-written plays. Tuttle’s next three plays–A Rose Nocturne, A Fish Story, and Terminal Café–were performed at Summerfest, and though Tuttle would later express mixed emotions about these early plays, calling them “sweaty and emotionally indulgent melodrama,” he also called his work at Summerfest “the single most valuable formative experience I’ve ever had. [Summerfest] taught me so much about practical theater and rewarded the time I spent writing with actual productions and not simply ‘development.’” Tuttle finished his M.A. in 1984 and his Ph.D. in 1989 with a dissertation on the work of playwright Arthur Miller. After working as a lecturer in English and composition at the University of New Mexico from 1988 to 1990, Tuttle moved to South Carolina and joined the English department at Francis Marion University. In 1998 he became playwright-in-residence at Trustus, a theater in Columbia, South Carolina, with which he continues to have a close and productive relationship. From 1999 to 2009, Tuttle also worked as the literary manager for Trustus, reading scripts for possible production.
In 2002 Tuttle married the former Cheryl Roberts, who directs student housing at FMU. Together, he and Cheryl have three children–her daughters Staci and Jill and Tuttle’s son by a previous marriage, Joshua. Tuttle’s writings include scholarly essays on Arthur Miller, David Mamet, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Truman Capote. In 2011, he edited David Kranes: Selected Plays (Level 4 Press), a collection of his former teacher’s plays. Tuttle is best known, however, for the existential themes and compelling mix of humor, wit, and tragedy in his own mature work for the stage. Sonata for Armadillos, a road-trip story about three “idiots stuck on a Greyhound,” was a finalist for the 1990 Heidemann Award. The Hammerstone, an academic satire that juxtaposes two college professors with opposing philosophies of education, won the 1994 South Carolina Playwrights’ Festival Award and was a finalist at the prestigious Actors’ Theatre of Louisville’s Humana Festival. Drift, a bitter meditation on marital mistrust and infidelity, won the 1998 South Carolina Playwrights’ Festival Award and a silver medal in the 2003 Pinter Review International Competition. Scenes from Drift were published in Best Scenes 2001, Best Women’s Monologues 2001, and Best Men’s Monologues 2001. Furthermore, The Hammerstone, Drift, and a later play, Holy Ghost, were collected by Intellect in The Trustus Plays in 2009.
In 2001 the University of South Carolina commissioned Tuttle’s play The White Problem, a historical tragedy about Richard Greener, the first African American to graduate from Harvard and a leading figure in the post-Reconstruction conflict between W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington. Greener was also the first black professor to teach at the University of South Carolina. The White Problem premiered at the Piccolo Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina. Tuttle’s second historical play, Holy Ghost, revolves around inmate suicides in a South Carolina P.O.W. camp where German prisoners during World War II are monitored by African American and Jewish guards. Holy Ghost premiered at Trustus in 2005 and won the Sprenger-Lang/Nathan Miller History Play contest and was a runner-up for National New Play Network’s Smith Award and a finalist for the Next Generation Playwriting Contest. The White Problem and Holy Ghost were later published together in a collection Two South Carolina Plays (Hub City, 2006), accompanied by essays written by Michael Mounter and John H. Moore.
Surprised and overwhelmed by the emotions provoked by the 2006 death of a family pet, Tuttle wrote The Sweet Abyss, which focuses on a woman grieving for her cat and the impact of that grieving on the woman’s daughter. Premiered by Trustus in 2009, The Sweet Abyss was published by Next Stage Press in 2011 and reprinted in the 2011 Regional Best anthology. Tuttle’s most recent play, The Palace of the Moorish Kings, is based on a story by American author Evan Shelby Connell about a friend returning to America in 1970, which Tuttle originally read in the mid-1980s. First produced by the Trustus Theater in 2012, The Palace of the Moorish Kings is set at a Thanksgiving Day family gathering and depicts the psychic surrender of members of the Greatest Generation now settled into middle class suburban lives. Tuttle calls The Palace of the Moorish Kings his “most reasonable, adult, and linear play.”
Currently, Tuttle teaches courses in playwriting, theater, and the literature of the Vietnam War as professor of English at Francis Marion University, where in 2005 he was named a Francis Marion University Trustees Research Scholar. In 2011–2012, he coordinated FMU’s international program and in 2013 accepted appointment as director of the honors program.
Tuttle has served on the board of governors of the South Carolina Academy of Authors and on the board of directors of the Florence Regional Arts Alliance since 2011. He has received the South Carolina Theatre Association’s Founders Award and fellowships from the South Carolina Arts Commission and the South Carolina Academy of Authors.
Tuttle, Jon. Personal Interview. 14 Sept. 2012.
–––. The Trustus Plays. Chicago: Intellect-U of Chicago Press, 2009.
–––. Two South Carolina Plays. Spartanburg, S.C.: Hub City Writers Project, 2009.