U.S. playwright Katori Hall wins Susan Smith Blackburn award

American playwright Katori Hall has won the prestigious Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, a $20,000 award given every year to a woman playwright writing in English. Hall received the prize for her play Hurt Village.

Here’s more:

The award of $20,000 and a signed and numbered print by artist Willem de Kooning were presented to Ms. Hall by Tony Award-winning actor Judith Ivey, one of the distinguished judges for the 2011 Blackburn Prize.  Hurt Village was nominated for the Prize by Signature Theatre Company (New York).

An important new voice in American theatre, Katori Hall explores the lives of black and often invisible Americans with vivid language, dynamic narratives and richly textured characterization. Her plays include The Mountaintop, which was produced to great acclaim at London’s Theatre 503 and received a transfer to the Trafalgar Studios in London’s West End, earning her an Olivier Award for Best New Play.  The Mountaintop is set for a 2011 Broadway production.

Based on a real-life housing project, Hurt Village explores in vivid and brutal detail the lives of poor and invisible Americans.  The piece focuses on a young African-American man who returns from fighting in Iraq to find that his home is being demolished. The play examines a long-lasting legacy of drug abuse, child abuse, crime, and self-hatred within a poor, working-class, multi-generational Black family

Now in its 33rd year, The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize is given annually to recognize women from around the world who have written works of outstanding quality for the English-speaking theatre.  The Blackburn Prize is the first international award created for women playwrights, and remains the most important award of its kind. The Houston-based Prize received the 2010 Theatre Communications Group’s National Funder Award. The annual honor goes to a company, foundation or other entity for “leadership and sustained national support of theater in America.”

The international panel of six judges for the 33rd annual Susan Smith Blackburn Prize included three from the U.K. and three from the U.S.: Jim Simpson, founder and artistic director of the Flea Theatre in NYC; Tony Award-winning American stage and film actress and director Judith Ivey; Obie-award winning director Anne Kauffman; celebrated English actress Helen McCrory, noted British critic and author Georgina Brown, and Stephen Unwin, Artistic Director of Britain’s The Rose Theatre.

Regarding, Hurt Village, Judges said:

“The writing is extraordinary and the characters distinct and complex. I felt as though I had been through an epic journey, taken through a very rough emotional landscape … and was exhausted and fulfilled at the end. I met people and experienced places that felt at once foreign and familiar … the emotional truth was astounding and the fearlessness of the play extraordinary.”

“A voice for the disenfranchised of America, told by a woman who understands their historical context and has compassion for her characters, but is also realistic about their responsibility in their own fate. The language is visceral, passionate – important to the play … excellent story telling, bleak but great theatre, extraordinary rhythm, energy, and with something to say.”

In addition to Ms. Hall, the nine other Finalists for the 2011 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, chosen from over 100 nominated plays, and their nominating theatres are:

  • Lisa D’Amour – Detroit, Steppenwolf Theatre Company (U.S.);
  • Sam Burns – Not the Worst Place, Paines Plough (U.K.);
  • Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig – Lidless, Marin Theatre Company (U.S.);
  • Georgia Fitch – Fit and Proper People, The Royal Shakespeare Company (U.K.),
  • Lisa Kron – In the Wake, Berkeley Repertory Theatre (U.S.);
  • Tamsin Oglesby – Really Old, Like 45, The Royal National Theatre (U.K.);
  • Anne Washburn – Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play, Woolly Mammoth Theatre  Company (U.S);
  • Joy Wilkinson – The Golden Age, Everyman Playhouse Liverpool (U.K.); and
  • Alexandra  Wood – The Andes, Out of Joint (U.K.).

Established in 1978, The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize reflects the values and interests of Susan Smith Blackburn, noted American actress and writer who grew up in Houston and lived in London during the last 15 years of her life. She died in 1977 at the age of 42, and her sister, Emilie Kilgore, and husband, William Blackburn, established the award in her honor.

Over 350 plays have been chosen as finalists since the Prize began, and in excess of 75 of them are frequently produced in the U.S. today. Seven Blackburn finalist plays have gone on to win the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. The authors of those plays, Margaret Edson, Beth Henley, Marsha Norman, Lynn Nottage, Suzan-Lori Parks, Paula Vogel and Wendy Wasserstein are the only women to have won the Pulitzer since the Blackburn Prize was first established.

Over the past three decades, the Blackburn Prize has been awarded to such celebrated playwrights as Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, Julia Cho, Caryl Churchill, Gina Gionfriddo, Beth Henley, Wendy Kesselman, Marlene Meyer, Ellen McLaughlin, Marsha Norman, Susan Miller, Chloe Moss, Dael Orlandersmith, Sarah Ruhl, Judith Thompson, Paula Vogel, Naomi Wallace and Timberlake Wertenbaker.

“The emergence of women playwrights over the history of the Susan Smith Blackburn has spear-headed a change in the position of women in every realm of the theater.”
— Wendy Wasserstein, 1988 winner for The Heidi Chronicles and first woman playwright to garner a Tony award.

“The Blackburn Prize has done more than any other single force or   festival to get plays by women collected and celebrated, but more  importantly, produced.”
— Marsha Norman, Tony-award winning playwright, 1983 Blackburn Prize winner for ‘night Mother.

Each year artistic directors and prominent professionals in the theatre throughout the English-speaking world are invited to nominate plays for the Prize.  In addition to the U.S., the U.K. and Ireland, new plays have been submitted from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India.  Each script receives multiple readings by an international reading committee that then selects 10 finalists.  The finalists’ plays are read and considered by all six judges in determining the winner.

KATORI HALL biography:

Katori Hall is a playwright-performer hailing from Memphis, Tennessee. Her plays include The Mountaintop, which was produced to great acclaim at London’s Theatre 503 and received a transfer to the Trafalgar Studios in London’s West End, earning her an Olivier Award for Best New Play.  The play is set for a 2011 Broadway production.  Other plays include Hoodoo Love, which was produced Off-Broadway at the Cherry Lane Theatre, Remembrance, Hurt Village, Saturday Night/Sunday Morning, WHADDABLOODCLOT!?!?, The Hope Well, and Pussy Valley.

Her awards include the Lark Play Development Playwrights of New York (PONY) Fellowship, Kate Neal Kinley Fellowship, two Lecompte du Nouy Prizes from Lincoln Center, Fellowship of Southern Writers Bryan Family Award in Drama, NYFA Fellowship, and the Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award. Hall was shortlisted for the London Evening Standard Most Promising Playwright Award and received the Otis Guernsey New Voices Playwriting Award from the William Inge Theatre Festival. She is currently based in Washington D.C., where she is proud to be an ARENA Stage resident playwright supported by the American Voices New Play Institute.

Hall has been published as a book reviewer, journalist, and essayist in publications such as The Boston Globe, Essence and Newsweek.  She has been a Kennedy Center Playwriting Fellow at the O’Neill. Hall is an alumna of the Women’s Project Playwrights’ Lab, the Primary Stages Dorothy Strelsin New American Writer’s Group, and the Lark Playwrights’ Workshop.

She graduated from Columbia University in 2003 with a major in African-American Studies and Creative Writing. She was awarded top departmental honors from the university’s Institute for Research in African-American Studies (IRAAS). In 2005, she graduated from the American Repertory Theatre Institute for Advanced Theatre Training at Harvard University with a Master of Fine Arts in Acting. She is a recent graduate of the Juilliard School’s Lila Acheson Wallace playwriting program.

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