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Barbara Garson (born July 7, 1941 in Brooklynmarker, New York Citymarker) is an American playwright, author and social activist.

Garson is best known for the play MacBird, a notorious 1966 counterculture drama/political parody of Macbeth that sold over half a million copies as a book and had over 90 productions world wide. The play was originally intended for an anti-war teach-in at the University of California, Berkeleymarker. The first published edition was printed on an offset press that Garson had restored the year before in order to print The Free Speech Movement Newsletter which she edited. She was one of 800 arrested with Mario Savio during these early student protests of the 1960s. Garson's self-published edition of MacBird had sold over 200,000 copies by 1967 when the play opened in New York in a production starring Stacey Keach, Bill Devane, Cleavon Little, and Rue McClanahan. While these then unknown actors went on to become fixtures in American theater, movies and television, the author disappeared from public view at the height of fame.

In 1968 Garson had a child, and in 1969 she went to work at The Shelter Half, an anti-war GI coffee house near Fort Lewismarker Army base in Tacoma, Washingtonmarker. Her only known publications from the coffee house period were articles in a Seattlemarker anarchist newsletter and contributions to FTA, the Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland anti-war show for soldiers that toured G.I. venues in the U.S. and abroad. Garson is said to have written skits performed at the coffee house during her tenure there.

Garson moved to Manhattanmarker in the early 1970s and began publishing short, humorous essays and theater reviews primarily for The Village Voice. Her next full length play Going Co-op, 1972, was a comedy about residents of an Upper West Sidemarker Manhattan apartment house going co-op and a floundering left wing political collective that comes home to help organize the tenants who cannot afford to change from renters to owners. It was written with Fred Gardner. Gardner is credited with founding the first of the Vietnam era GI Coffee Houses.

Garson's children's play The Dinosaur Door, set on a class trip to the Natural History Museum, was awarded an OBIE for playwriting in 1977.

A full-length play, The Department (1983), written for and performed by the organizing group Women Office Workers (WOW), is set in a bank's back office that is about to be automated. The Department, though a light farce, sets out many of the problems that Garson expanded on in her 1989 book The Electronic Sweatshop: How Computers are Transforming the Office of the Future into the Factory of the Past.

In addition to plays, Garson is the author of three non-fiction books:

  • All the Livelong Day: The Meaning and Demeaning of Routine Work, Doubleday & Co., N.Y., 1975; Penguin, N.Y., 1977,; Expanded edition, Penguin, 1994.
  • The Electronic Sweatshop: How Computers Are Transforming the Office of the Future into the Factory of the Past, Simon & Schuster, N.Y., 1988; Penguin, N.Y., 1989.
  • Money Makes the World Go Around: One Investor Tracks Her Cash Through the Global Economy, Viking, N.Y., 2001, Penguin, N.Y., 2002.

All three books explain complex capitalist phenomena — Taylorism in the first two, global finance in the third — through dramatic anecdotes and interviews. They each describe a historical turning point through the voices of a range of people who may (or may not) themselves, understand the changes happening in their own lives.

MacBird is remembered as an attack on then U.S. President Lyndon Johnson. In fact, it presented Johnson's predecessor, John Kennedy, and his would-be successor Robert Kennedy as equally unacceptable but more dangerously alluring. Garson wanted her fellow 1960s activists to step away from the Democratic Party and create their own institutions including a third party. To that end, she could sometimes be seen outside of California theaters where MacBird was playing, gathering signatures to put the Peace and Freedom Party on the ballot.

In Money Makes the World Go Around, Garson explained the global economy by depositing her book advance in a one branch small town bank, then following it around the world. At one point, her money was invested in Suez, the Frenchmarker company that owned Johannesburgmarker's water system. When protesters were arrested for opposing price increases and water shut offs, Garson organized a "shareholders" demonstration on their behalf in front of the South African consulate.

Garson insists that activism is essential to her writing. But her plays and non-fiction feature layered characters and plot twists that are often irrelevant or even inimical to liberal and socialist tenets. Indeed, Money Makes the World Go Around was largely ignored by the anti-globalization movement within which Garson was active, while a Wall Street Journal review said "Ms. Garson recounts her travels with a disarmingly balanced combination of amazement and social concern" and Business Week said "...her voice is so persistently good-natured and her intelligence so obvious that by the end of this curious capitalist's Baedeker you can't help but trust her gentle judgments."

Garson is the author of over 100 articles in publications including Harper's, The New York Times, McCalls, Newsweek, The Village Voice, Ms., The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Newsday, Modern Maturity, Mother Jones, The Nation, and Znet.

She was awarded an OBIE for The Dinosaur Door and a Special Commission from the New York State Council on the Arts, for the Creation of Plays for Younger audiences. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a Louis M. Rabinowitz Foundation Grant, the New York Public Librarymarker Books to Remember award and Library Journal's Best Business Books of 1989 award, and a MacArthur Foundation Grant for reading and writing.

In 1992, Garson was the running mate for J. Quinn Brisben on the Socialist Party USA ticket, replacing Bill Edwards, who died during the race. In August 1992, she received a message on her answering machine: "We're sorry to tell you that the Socialist Vice-Presidential candidate, Bill Edwards, has died. We would like your help in writing a press release for the newspapers. And also, would you like to run for Vice President?", which she initially believed to be a joke.


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