JoAnne Akalaitis on Aphra Behn

“She gave us the right to speak our minds.”

APHRA BEHN, playwright, spy, fearless 17th century woman, was the first professional female writer in the English language, earning her living as a celebrated author. Bawdy, brilliant, and often-banned, Aphra had male and female lovers, riotous opening nights, wealth and loss, and lived life to the fullest, damning accepted conventions of the day. Esteemed director JoAnne Akalaitis who has worked extensively on Aphra Ben’s plays, tells us the thrilling story of a woman who has "...given us all the right to speak our minds."

Our storytellers share these astonishing women with us conversationally and unscripted; we fact-check afterwards and note any major discrepancies for accuracy.


JoAnne Akalaitis

JoAnne Akalaitis is a theatre director, writer and a founding member of Mabou Mines. She has received six OBIE Awards for direction (and Sustained Achievement), and a Drama Desk Award. JoAnne is the former Artistic Director of The Public Theater and has staged works by María Irene Fornés, Euripides, Shakespeare, Strindberg, Janacek, Philip Glass, Beckett, Jean Genet, Tennesse Williams, Harold Pinter in addition to her own work, most recently BAD NEWS ! i was there … at the Skirball Arts Center. Akalaitis was the Andrew Mellon Co-Chair of the first directing program at The Juilliard School, chair of the Theater program at Bard College, and the Denzel Washington Endowed Chair of the Theater at Fordham University. She conceived and co-produced the María Irene Fornés Marathon at the Public Theater in 2018.

Featured Woman

Aphra Behn

Aphra Behn, English author, playwright, poet, spy, was a 17th century anomaly — the first professional female writer in the English language. She broke cultural barriers, flouting convention in her life and in her writing, and served as a literary role model for generations of women. Her work was celebrated —and— labeled “morally depraved.” Before her death at 48, she published her great work “Oroonoko,” an anti-slave novel and play that was performed continuously until the 19th century. Virginia Woolf wrote, “All women should allow flowers to fall on the tomb of Aphra Behn because she gave us the right to speak our minds.” Recognized for her ground-breaking body of work, Aphra Behn is buried in Westminster Abbey.