Virtual Event: Sarah Ruhl


The Story of a Face

in conversation with JOHN LAHR


October 21, 2021
6:00 PM ET


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$32.50 (book and signed bookplate included) - On Sale Now $5 suggested - pay what you can - On Sale Now

Harvard Book Store's virtual event series welcomes beloved, award-winning playwright, poet, and essayist SARAH RUHL for a discussion of her latest book, Smile: The Story of a Face. She will be joined in conversation by legendary theatre critic JOHN LAHR, author of Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrim of the Flesh and the forthcoming Arthur Miller: American Witness.


There are two ticket options available for this event.

Admission Ticket - $32.50: Includes one admission link, one copy of Smile, and one bookplate signed by the author. U.S. shipping also included. Books will be shipped to ticket-holders following the event. Please note: we are unable to ship internationally.

Pay-What-You-Can Ticket: Includes one admission link. We suggest a $5 donation to support Harvard Book Store's staff and our virtual event series during these difficult times. Thank you for your support!


About Smile

With a play opening on Broadway, and every reason to smile, Sarah Ruhl has just survived a high-risk pregnancy when she discovers the left side of her face is completely paralyzed. She is assured that 90 percent of Bell’s palsy patients see spontaneous improvement and experience a full recovery. Like Ruhl’s own mother. But Sarah is in the unlucky ten percent. And for a woman, wife, mother, and artist working in theater, the paralysis and the disconnect between the interior and exterior brings significant and specific challenges. So Ruhl begins an intense decade-long search for a cure while simultaneously grappling with the reality of her new face—one that, while recognizably her own—is incapable of accurately communicating feelings or intentions.

In a series of piercing, witty, and lucid meditations, Ruhl chronicles her journey as a patient, wife, mother, and artist. She explores the struggle of a body yearning to match its inner landscape, the pain of postpartum depression, the story of a marriage, being a playwright and working mom to three small children, and the desire for a resilient spiritual life in the face of illness.

Brimming with insight, humility, and levity, Smile is a triumph by one of America’s leading playwrights. It is an intimate examination of loss and reconciliation, and above all else, the importance of perseverance and hope in the face of adversity.

Praise for Smile

"With a poet’s sharp eye for detail and a playwright’s grasp of both the tragic and the absurd, Sarah Ruhl has written a remarkable book. Smile is at once a gripping story and a profound exploration of the mysteries of illness. I know of nothing like it." —James Shapiro, author of Shakespeare in a Divided America

"I’m now accustomed to Sarah’s whipping out profound and necessary books that I can’t put down even when I smell dinner burning, but I guess I wasn’t prepared for her book about Bell’s Palsy to provide some of the most deeply romantic passages about married love I have ever read. I smiled, for sure, but I also swooned and ached and was left with goose-flesh more than once. I adore this book." —Mary Louise Parker, New York Times bestselling author of Dear Mr. You

John Lahr
John Lahr

John Lahr

Since 1991, John Lahr has been a contributor to the New Yorker where for twenty-one years he was the Senior Drama Critic, the longest tenure in that job in the magazine’s history. He has twice won the George Jean Nathan Award for Drama Criticism. His biography of Joe Orton, Prick Up Your Ears, was filmed in 1987. His biography Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrim of the Flesh (2014)  won the National Book Critics Circle Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Harold D. Vursell Award for Quality of Prose, and a was a finalist for the National Book Award. He was the first critic to win a Tony Award for co-authoring Elaine Stritch at Liberty (2002) and also the first critic to receive the National Art Club’s Medal of Honor for Achievement in Theatre Arts. His latest book Arthur Miller: American Witness will be published in 2022 by Yale University Press.

Photo Credit: Paul Kolnik

Sarah Ruhl
Sarah Ruhl

Sarah Ruhl

Sarah Ruhl is a playwright and writer of other things. Her fifteen plays include In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play), The Clean House, and Eurydice. She has been a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, a Tony Award nominee, and the recipient of the MacArthur “genius” Fellowship. Her plays have been produced on- and off-Broadway, around the country, internationally, and have been translated into many languages. Her book 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write was a New York Times Notable Book. Her other books include Letters from Max, with Max Ritvo, and 44 Poems for You. You can read more about her work at

Photo Credit: Gregory Costanzo

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Event Series: Virtual Event Series

Harvard Book Store’s award-winning event series continues online! Named "Best of Boston: 2020 Best Virtual Author Series" and "2021 Best Virtual Author Series" by Boston magazine.

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