The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize has announced 10 Finalists for 2021 for its prestigious playwriting award, the oldest and largest prize awarded to women+ playwrights. Chosen from an international group of over 160 nominated plays, the Finalists are:
Glace Chase (Aus/US) Triple X
Erika Dickerson-Despenza (US) cullud wattah
Miranda Rose Hall (US) A Play for the Living in the Time of Extinction
Dawn King (UK) The Trials
Kimber Lee (US) The Water Palace
Janice Okoh (UK) The Gift
Ife Olujobi (US) Jordans
Frances Poet (UK) Maggie May
Jiehae Park (US) The Aves
Beth Steel (UK) The House of Shades
The Winner, to be announced at the beginning of April, will be awarded a cash prize of $25,000 USD, and will receive a signed print by renowned artist Willem De Kooning, created especially for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. Each of the additional Finalists will receive an award of $5,000. At the discretion of the Judges, a play can also be honored with a Special Commendation of $10,000.
The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize is awarded annually to celebrate women+ who have written works of outstanding quality for the English-speaking theatre. Women+ includes women, transgender and non-binary playwrights. Each year, artistic directors and prominent professionals in the theatre are invited to submit plays. Each script receives multiple readings by members of an international reading committee that selects the finalists. An international panel of six judges then selects the winning play.
Judges for the 2021 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize are: Theatre, opera and film director Natalie Abrahami (UK); award-winning star of stage and screen, Paapa Essiedu (UK); winner of multiple Olivier Awards for production design, Bunny Christie (UK); Lincoln Center Resident Director Lileana Blain-Cruz (US); Broadway and television star Jason Butler Harner (US); and Theatre and Arts leader and director, Seema Sueko (US).
Leslie Swackhamer, the Executive Director of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, said, “In this time of crisis when our theatres are dark, our readers and judges have found great solace and inspiration in connecting with the vibrancy of this work. These plays are fierce, brave and compelling. Bold in their narrative strategies, the plays are inventive and provocative. These are strong and utterly unique voices which celebrate theatricality and our common humanity. Many of these playwrights had their plays postponed, cancelled and interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is now more important than ever to celebrate their work. Theatres may be dark at this moment, but when they come back to glorious life, these incredible plays will light up the darkness.”
Lucy Prebble won the 2020 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize with A Very Expensive Poison, which also won the Critics Circle Award for Best New Play. The 2019 Winner of the Prize, Fairview by Jackie Sibblies Drury, subsequently won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama and a 2019 Steinberg Playwright Award and enjoyed sold-out runs in New York and London.
Since the Prize’s founding in 1978, over 470 plays have been honored as Finalists. Many have gone on to receive other top honors, including Olivier, Lilly, Evening Standard and Tony Awards for Best Play. Ten Susan Smith Blackburn Finalist plays have subsequently won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. The Prize has also fostered an interchange of plays between the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and other English-speaking countries.
Past winners of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize include Lynn Nottage’s Sweat, Annie Baker’s The Flick, Caryl Churchill’s Fen, Marsha Norman’s ‘night,Mother, Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive, Nell Dunn’s Steaming, Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles, Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Fairview, Chloe Moss’s This Wide Night, Sarah Ruhl’s The Clean House, Judith Thompson’s Palace of the End, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s Behzti (Dishonour), Julia Cho’s The Language Archive, Jennifer Haley’s The Nether, Charlotte Jones’ Humble Boy, Naomi Wallace’s One Flea Spare, and Moira Buffini’s Silence.
Former Judges of The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize over the past forty-three years are a “Who’s Who” of the English-speaking theatre and include Edward Albee, Eileen Atkins, Zoe Caldwell, Glenn Close, Harold Clurman, Marianne Elliott, Peter Eyre, Ralph Fiennes, Greta Gerwig, John Guare, Mel Gussow, David Hare, Jeremy Herrin, Judith Ivey, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Tony Kushner, Phyllida Lloyd, Marsha Norman, Francis McDormand, Janet McTeer, Tanya Moodie, Cynthia Nixon, Robert O’Hara, Joan Plowright, Ben Power, Diana Rigg, Indhu Rubasingham, Fiona Shaw, Tom Stoppard, Meryl Streep, Daniel Sullivan, Jessica Tandy, Liesl Tommy, Sigourney Weaver, August Wilson, Ruth Wilson, and George C. Wolfe among more than 200 artists and theatre professionals from the United States, the United Kingdom and Ireland.