Alumnus returns to OU for staged reading of his play ‘Alabama Story’


Photo courtesy of The Oakland Press

Alumnus Kenneth Jones returned to OU for a reading of his play “Alabama Story” on Aug. 21. The proceeds of the event were donated to Kresge Library.

New York playwright Kenneth Jones returned to Oakland University for a staged reading of his play “Alabama Story” on Saturday, Aug. 21 on the lawn of the John Dodge House. The event was a fundraiser for OU’s Kresge Library. 

The reading was the third time that the play has been performed. The most recent version of the play will be published this coming fall. 

Jones graduated from OU in 1986 with a Bachelor of Arts in communication. “I took a lot of theatre and film history classes,” said Jones. “I wanted to be an entertainment writer.”

After graduating, he worked as a critical entertainment reviewer for The Oakland Press and The Detroit News before eventually moving to New York in 1998. He got into the creative writing process and received a call from Playbill.

He got a job working as a writer and editor at Playbill. Jones credits the connections he made during his time at OU for helping him get internships and a start in the industry. 

Jones was reading a story in the New York Times about Emily Reed, a librarian in Alabama, when he got the idea to write “Alabama Story.” The story centers on Reed who was persecuted by white segregationist senators because she wouldn’t take “The Rabbit’s Wedding” — a children’s book about the marriage of a black bunny and a white rabbit — off of a bookshelf. 

The “Rabbit’s Wedding,” originally published in 1958, was written and illustrated by Garth Williams. The book was thought to be promoting racial integration and challenging segregation policies. Williams narrates the six-character play and the story — a mixture of both fact and fiction — is set in Montgomery in 1959. 

Jones used several newspaper studies as research for the two-act play. The show was written during a very important time in U.S. history, the Obama era. Jones points out that the show felt like something that was needed at the time.

The play has received critical acclaim since its dawn. It was nominated for the 2016 Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award and it was a finalist in the 2014 National Playwright Conference of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. 

Jones says that the part that he is the most proud of with this play is “having people in tears talking about the passing of information — the first book that they read, the free flow of information.” He talks about how the responses to storytelling inspire him. Jones’ success from his love of the arts and the connections that he made at OU inspire students who want to follow similar paths.