The 2022 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize has been awarded to UK playwright Benedict Lombe.
The annual international prize was awarded for Lombe’s debut play LAVA, which premiered at the Bush Theatre in July 2021 starring Ronke Adékoluejo and directed by Anthony Simpson-Pike.
The $25,000 prize was awarded to Lombe at a presentation at Shakespeare’s Globe in London. The prize also included a signed, limited-edition print by artist Willem de Kooning, created especially for the Prize.
The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize celebrates women+ who have written works of outstanding quality for English-speaking theatre. The prize was started in 1978, and is the oldest and largest prize awarded to women+ playwrights.
Each of the additional nine finalists of this year’s prize also received an award of $5,000. The finalists were Chiara Atik (US) for Poor Clare; Daniella De Jesús (US) for Get Your Pink Hands Off Me Sucka and Give Me Back (FKA Columbus Play); Sarah Hanly (Ireland) for Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks (Royal Court); Zora Howard (US) for BUST; Sonya Kelly (Ireland) for The Last Return; Joanna Murray-Smith (Australia) for Berlin; Kae Tempest (UK) for Paradise; Amanda Wilkin (UK) for Shedding a Skin; and Lauren Whitehead (US) for The Play Which Raises the Question of What Happened in/to low Income Black Communities between 1974 and 2004 And Hints at Why Mass Incarceration is Perhaps a Man-Made Disease And Highlights the Government’s General Lack of Empathy for Poor People of Color And Dispels the Notion that Our Condition is Our Fault And Helps Make Visible Why We Riot When We Mourn And also Tells the Story of Anita Freeman & her Kids (The Play Which Raises the Question…).
Lava has also won Best Performance Piece at the 2022 Offies – Off West End Awards, and Lombe won the Book and Lyrics Recognition Award at the 2021 Black British Theatre Awards.
In Lava, a British Congolese woman, “Her”, receives an unexpected letter from the British Passport Office and is forced to confront an old mystery: why does her South African passport not carry her first name? In her quest for answers, she finds a much bigger story. Playful and lyrical, moving from Mobutu’s Congo to post-Apartheid South Africa, Ireland and England, Lava is a story about unravelling the patterns of chaos across history-questioning nationhood narratives, and the process of naming the unnameable.
“Written in the summer of 2020, after the utter exhaustion felt by black people around the globe, LAVA is what poured out of my soul”, said playwright Benedict Lombe. “Lava is a play that celebrates Blackness in its fullness, showcasing the joy, the struggle, the beauty, and the resistance that has maintained our survival… I wrote it because I wanted to make something that allowed Black people to enter a space and leave taller than when they walked in.”
The judges of this year’s prize were star of stage and screen, actor/writer/producer Adjoa Andoh (UK); noted playwright and associate artistic director of Center Theatre Group, Luis Alfaro (US); director for film and theatre, playwright and artistic director of the Unicorn Theatre, Justin Audibert (UK); winner of multiple Olivier and Tony Awards for lighting design, Paule Constable (UK); stage, film and television star Saidah Arrika Ekulona (US); and Obie and Lilly award-winning director, actor and musician, Whitney White (US).
Benedict Lombe is a Kinshasa-born British Congolese writer and theatre-maker based in London. She is interested in wholly reclaiming diasporic stories; without compromise, without apology, and doing it with flair, humour and heart. Lombe has won a Black British Theatre Award and was shortlisted for the Alfred Fagon Award for Best New Play of the Year. She is on attachment with the National Theatre Studio, has been selected to join BBC Drama Room, and is working on new theatre commissions. She has also previously completed attachments with the Bush Theatre and Theatre503. She is currently working with production companies to develop original film and TV projects.
More about the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize
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.
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. Eleven Susan Smith Blackburn Finalist playwrights 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 Caryl Churchill’s Fen and Serious Money, Lynn Nottage’s Sweat, Erika Dickerson-Despenza’s Cullud Wattah, Lucy Prebble’s A Very Expensive Poison, Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Fairview, Alice Birch’s Anatomy of a Suicide, Annie Baker’s The Flick, Charlotte Jones’ Humble Boy, Moira Buffini’s Silence, Marsha Norman’s ‘night,Mother, Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive, Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Three Birds Alighting on a Field, Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles, 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), and Jennifer Haley’s The Nether,