Finalists have been announced for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize 2023 – which celebrates women+ playwrights.
The 10 finalists have been chosen from a group of over 190 plays that were nominated from around the world.
The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize finalists for 2023 include Zadie Smith (UK) for The Wife of Willesden, which is now playing at the Kiln Theatre in London until 11 February, and is shortly heading to New York; Ruby Thomas (UK) for Linck & Mülhahn, which is now playing at Hampstead Theatre in London; Anupama Chandrasekhar (India) for The Father and the Assassin; Maryam Hamidi (UK) for Moonset; Karen Hartman (US) for New Golden Age; Katie Holly (Ireland) for Her Hand on the Trellis; Kimber Lee (US) for saturday, with Kimber’s other new play Untitled F*ck M*ss S**gon Play coming to the Young Vic in September; Sarah Mantell (US) for In the Amazon Warehouse Parking Lot; a.k. payne (US) for Amani; and Francisca Da Silveira (US) for Pay No Worship.
Winners will be announced on 27 March at Playwrights Horizons in New York City, with the winner bagging the $25,000 cash price plus a limited edition signed print by renowned artist Willem de Kooning, created especially for the Prize. Each of the additional Finalists will receive an award of $5,000.
The winner is chosen by an international panel of six judges, this year writer Julia Cho (US) – who is a previous winner of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for The Language Archive; stage director Rebecca Frecknall (UK), who directed London’s acclaimed production of Cabaret currently playing at the Kit Kat Club, and most recently directed A Streetcar Named Desire at the Almeida theatre and soon the Phoenix Theatre in London; choreographer/director Raja Feather Kelly (US); theatrical producer and President of the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) Eleanor Lloyd (UK) – who is currently producing West End play Vardy v Rooney: The Wagatha Christie Trial, which is coming to the Ambassador’s Theatre in April; celebrated actor/director/writer Lucian Msamati (UK); and star of stage and screen, Amy Ryan (US).
The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize was founded in 1978 and 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.
Last year’s winner was UK playwright Benedict Lombe, for Lombe’s debut play LAVA.
The submitting theatres of this year’s finalists are 59 E 59 (NYC), Hampstead Theatre (London), Kiln Theatre (London), Ma-Yi Theater Company (NYC), Mermaid Arts Center (Co. Wicklow, Ireland), National Black Theatre (NYC), Playwrights Horizons (NYC), The Citizens Theatre (Glasgow), and The Public Theater (NYC).
More about the finalists
Anupama Chandrasekhar (India) The Father and the Assassin
Based in Chennai, India, Chandrasekhar was the first international playwright-in-residence at the National Theatre, London, and a Charles Wallace India Trust Writing Fellow at the University of Chichester. Her plays have been translated into several languages and staged at leading venues in India, Europe, and North America. The Father and the Assassin opened at the National Theatre’s Olivier Stage in London and was nominated for best play and best actor at the recent London Evening Standard Theatre Awards. Among her other works are Free Outgoing (Susan Smith Blackburn Prize Finalist, runner-up Evening Standard Award for Most Promising Playwright, Whiting Award Finalist) and Disconnect, both of which premiered at the Royal Court Theatre, and When the Crows Visit, which opened at the Kiln Theatre. Other plays include The Snow Queen (Unicorn Theatre/Trestle Theatre/UK and India tour)Acid (QTP, Mumbai/Madras Players, Chennai) and Closer Apart (Theatre Nisha, Chennai).
Maryam Hamidi (UK) Moonset
Maryam is a writer for stage, screen and radio, following a long career as an actor. Born in Iran, and raised in England, she has lived in Scotland for over 20 years. Maryam received the Playwright’s Studio Scotland, ‘New Playwright’s Award’ to develop Moonset, which is currently premiering in a production by the Citizens Theatre presented at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow and Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh. Maryam likes to collide genres to un-crack the joy, pain and messiness of immigrant experience, matrilineal ties and power imbalances. She has recently written The Words for Glasgow’s Lunchtime theatre, A Play, A Pie & A Pint and Ghost Stories: I look down on myself for Pitlochry Festival Theatre, and as two short form radio plays for BBC Radio and BBC Radio Scotland. Her one woman show The Chronicles of Irania (co-writer Catrin Evans) was shortlisted for the Amnesty International ‘Freedom of Expression Award’. For TV she has written multiple episodes of Molly & Mack (BBC), Silverpoint (Zodiak Kids) and Hollyoaks (Lime) alongside ongoing development of several of her own TV projects. A recipient of Screen Scotland & BBC Writers Room’s inaugural Drama Development Programme, she has also written and directed short films Bahar (Moquette films/Short Circuit/BFI Network) and Bloody Love(Clan/SFTN).
Karen Hartman (US) New Golden Age
Karen Hartman’s work launched VOLT at 59e59 Theaters in 2022, an unprecedented festival of three simultaneous off-Broadway premieres by a single author: New Golden Age (Primary Stages); The Lucky Star (The Directors Company); and Goldie, Max & Milk (MBL Productions). Also in 2022, the musical Rattlesnake Kate, book by Hartman, score by Neyla Pekarek, won eight Henry Awards including Best New Play or Musical. Some of Hartman’s many works include: Good Faith: Four Chats about Race and the New Haven Fire Department (Yale Repertory Theater), Roz and Ray (McKnight Fellowship, Edgerton New Play Prize, Kilroy’s List), Project Dawn (NEA Art Works Grant, NNPN Rolling World Premiere, currently in development for television), Leah’s Train (National Asian American Theater Company, Weissberger Award Finalist), Girl Under Grain (Best Drama in NY Fringe), and Gum. A recent Guggenheim Fellow and former Fulbright Scholar, Hodder Fellow, and New Dramatist, Hartman served as Senior Artist-in-Residence at University of Washington School of Drama for five years, and lives in Brooklyn with her family. She wrote the book for Alice Bliss (music: Jenny Giering, lyrics: Adam Gwon, based on Laura Harrington’s novel) which won the 2019 Weston-Ghostlight New Musical Award and will premiere at TheatreWorks in 2023.
Katie Holly (Ireland) Her Hand on the Trellis
Katie Holly’s first three plays Marion (2016), Sharon (2017) and Crowman (2018) premiered at Cork Midsummer Festival and toured regionally and/or nationally. Sharon was recorded and broadcast as a radio play on Ireland’s national broadcaster RTE Radio 1 and won a New York Festival Silver Award for ‘Best Digital Drama’ in 2019. She was commissioned by Cork County Council to write and produce Crossword (Bealtaine Festival 2019) and Pageant (Cork Culture Night 2020). In 2021 Katie was participated in the Irish Theatre Institute’s artist program ‘Six in the Attic’. Also in 2021, she received a Theatre Bursary for the development of her practice and began writing ‘Her hand on the trellis’ (both of which were funded by the Arts Council of Ireland, and supported in development by Julie Kelleher and Mermaid Arts Centre as well as Sophie Motley and Everyman Theatre). Katie is a participant in the Maven’s Playwright Program, a professional development programme providing career support for female-identifying writers. Katie is currently completing a residency at Everyman Theatre, Cork under the mentorship of Enda Walsh and as part of this residency is writing a new comedy called Blindspot. Graduate of Drama and Theatre Studies in University College Cork, where she subsequently completed a Masters in Irish Literature.
Kimber Lee (US) saturday
Kimber’s plays include the water palace (2021 Susan Smith Blackburn Special Commendation), to the yellow house (La Jolla Playhouse), untitled f*ck m*ss s**gon play (2019 Bruntwood Prize International Award, Susan Smith Blackburn Prize Finalist, upcoming World Premiere at Royal Exchange Theatre and Young Vic, UK), saturday (Colorado New Play Summit), tokyo fish story (South Coast Rep, TheatreWorks/SV, Old Globe), brownsville song (b-side for tray)(Humana Festival, LCT3, Long Wharf Theatre, Philadelphia Theatre Company, Seattle Rep, Moxie Theatre, Shotgun Players), and different words for the same thing directed by Neel Keller (Center Theatre Group). She has also developed work with Lark Play Development Center, Ground Floor/Berkeley Rep, Page 73, O’Neill NPC, Hedgebrook, Ojai Playwrights Conference, Seven Devils, Bay Area Playwrights Festival, Great Plains Theatre Conference, ACT Theatre/Seattle, Premiere Stages, and Magic Theatre. Lark Playwrights Workshop Fellow, Dramatists Guild Fellow, member of Ma-Yi Writers Lab, and recipient of the Ruby Prize, PoNY Fellowship, Hartford Stage New Voices Fellowship, 2020-2021 Hodder Fellowship, 2020 Helen Merrill Award, 2020 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize Finalist, inaugural winner Bruntwood Prize International Award 2019, 2021 Edgerton New Play Award, 2021 Herb Alpert Award in the Arts, and 2023-2024 Hermitage Artist Retreat Fellow. MFA: UT Austin.
Sarah Mantell (US) In the Amazon Warehouse Parking Lot
Sarah’s plays include Everything That Never Happened, The Good Guys, Tiny, In the Amazon Warehouse Parking Lot, and Fight Call. They have been produced and developed at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Boston Court Pasadena, Playwrights Horizons, The Playwrights Realm, Artists Repertory Theatre, Juneteenth Theatre Justice Project, Seven Devils Playwrights Conference, The Yale Cabaret, and Seattle Repertory Theatre. Sarah is under commission with Playwrights Horizons and Geva Theatre Center and has been awarded residencies at MacDowell, Yaddo, Wildacres, Hedgebrook, Jentel, and SPACE on Ryder Farm, as well as a Playwrights Realm Writing Fellowship, Toulmin grant, Edgerton Foundation grant, and first runner-up for the Leah Ryan FEWW award. Essays include “Touch the Wound, But Don’t Live There” in American Theatre Magazine and “On the Loss of a Play and Things Worth Losing” on 3Views. Sarah has taught at Wesleyan University, SUNY Purchase, Occidental College, and New Haven’s Cooperative Arts High School. BFA Rhode Island School of Design. MFA: Yale School of Drama.
a.k. payne (US) Amani
a.k. payne (she/they) is a playwright, artist-theorist, and theatermaker with roots in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her plays love on and engage Black lives and languages beyond the confines of linear time to find/remember stories that might create conditions for our collective liberation(s). Amani’s premiere runs February 8- March 5 in a co-production by the National Black Theatre and Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. Payne’s work has been finalist for the L. Arnold Weissberger New Play Award, winner of the David Mark Cohen National Playwriting Award, and 3x semi-finalist for the O’Neill National Playwriting Conference. She is a current recipient of the Kemp Powers Commission Fund for Black Playwrights and Atlantic Theater Company’s Judith Champion Launch Commission. Their work has been developed with the New Harmony Project, Great Plains Theater Conference, and Manhattan Theater Club’s “Groundworks Lab.” B.A. in English and African-American Studies from Yale College and May 2023 MFA to be awarded in Playwriting under Tarell Alvin McCraney from fka Yale School of Drama.
Francisca Da Silveira (US) Pay No Worship
Francisca is a Cape Verdean-American playwright and Boston native has been featured in ArtsBoston, The LA Times, The Boston Globe and American Theatre Magazine. Her plays have been developed with Theatre 503 (London), The Traverse Theatre, Company One Theatre (Boston), The Fire This Time Festival (New York), The Playwrights Realm (New York), The Public Theater,The New Group, Colt Coeur, and La Jolla Playhouse. Not-For-Profit (Or The Equity, Diversity And Inclusion Play) was featured in The Playwrights’ Realm’s INK’D Festival in 2021 and in La Jolla Playhouse’s DNA New Works Series in 2021. Can I Touch It? was featured in the National New Play Network’s 2020 National Showcase of New Plays and in 2022-2023 will receive a Rolling World Premiere at Company One Theatre (Boston), Rogue Machine Theatre (Los Angeles) and Cleveland Public Theatre. Pay No Worship will receive a World Premiere production at InterAct Theatre Company (Philadelphia) in Spring 2023. A 2020-2021 Playwrights Realm Writing Fellow, Fran is currently a member of The Public Theater’s 2020-2023 Emerging Writers Group and a 2022-2023 Jerome Fellow with the Playwrights’ Center.BFA in Dramatic Writing from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, MSc in Playwriting from the University of Edinburgh.
Zadie Smith (UK) The Wife of Willesden
Zadie Smith is a novelist and essayist born in North London to an English father and a Jamaican mother. Her first novel, White Teeth (2000), garnered multiple awards, including the Guardian First Book Award, the Whitbread First Novel Award, and the Commonwealth Writers Prize (Overall Winner, Best First Book). It also won two EMMA (BT Ethnic and Multicultural Media Awards) for Best Book/Novel and Best Female Media Newcomer and was shortlisted for the Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, the Orange Prize for Fiction and the Author’s Club First Novel Award. White Teeth has been translated into over twenty languages and was adapted for Channel 4 television in 2002. Other novels include The Autograph Man (2003 Jewish Quarterly Literary Prize for Fiction), On Beauty (2006 Orange Prize for Fiction), NW and Swing Time; as well as a novella, The Embassy of Cambodia; three collections of essays, Changing My Mind, Feel Free and Intimations; and a collection of short stories, Grand Union. She is also the editor of The Book of Other People. The Wife of Willesden, which debuted at the Kiln Theatre (London) in 2021, is Ms. Smith’s first play. The play is a reimagining of The Wife of Bath’s Tale from Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. Smith received the 2022 Critics’ Circle Award for most Promising Playwright. The production will play in the US at ART and then BAM, beginning March 2nd.
Ruby Thomas (UK) Linck & Mülhahn
Ruby Thomas is an actor and writer from London. Her plays Either (2019) and The Animal Kingdom (2022) were produced by Hampstead Theatre Downstairs and her short play Romy & Me was part of the Living Newspaper at the Royal Court (2020). She was chosen for the Channel 4 Playwrights’ Scheme (2020), received a Jerwood Commission from the Royal Court (2021) and was nominated for the George Devine Award (2022) for Linck & Mülhahn. She is currently developing plays on commission for the Royal Court and Annapurna and a musical for Birmingham Rep. For television she is writing an episode of A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder for Moonage and the BBC as well as developing other original projects. The premiere production of Linck & Mülhahn is currently running through March 4 at Hampstead Theatre.