Susan Parenti was born in Chicago to a mother who is a painter, “but she’s just a housewife,” and a father who was an architect-creator, “but he’s just a house painter.” Parenti studied music composition while being fascinated by language and its ability to slander and put people down, “but it’s just words!” In 1986, she received a doctorate in music composition from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.
Her teacher and life friend in Champaign-Urbana, composer Herbert Brun, insisted on making connections between art and society. This insistence, welcomed by those young people who had been born into a world of the Cold War, Vietnam, and a vigorously growing capitalism, influenced Parenti and other students to form a touring experimental music and theater ensemble, the Performer’s Workshop Ensemble (PWE). The PWE composes concerts, performs workshops, and publishes books, all with the intent of questioning the status quo of art and society. Its current compositional project is the School for Designing a Society in Urbana, where the question “What would I consider a desirable society?” is given serious and thoughtful discussion.
At the School for Designing a Society, Parenti teaches courses on feminism, performance, and composition. She tours with Patch Adams, lecturing and performing piano, accordion, and tap dance. She has published two books, a collection of plays The Politics of the Adjective ‘Political’ and Other Plays, and a book of poems and language investigations I, My Mouth, and Their Irresistible Life in Language. She is currently working on a book with Patch Adams called The Politics of Care.