The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize has announced ten finalists for the prestigious playwriting award, now entering its fourth decade. The awards are given annually to recognize women from around the world who have written works of outstanding quality for the English-speaking theatre.  

The ten finalists, chosen from over 100 submitted plays, are:

Anupama Chandrasekhar-Free Outgoing (India); Lucinda CoxonHappy Now? (England);

Ann Marie Healy-What Once We Felt (U.S.); Michele Lowe-Inana (U.S.);

Elizabeth Meriwether-Oliver! (U.S.); Chloe Moss-This Wide Night (England);  

Lynn Nottage-Ruined (U.S.); Kaite O'Reilly-The Almond and the Seahorse(Wales);

Amy Rosenthal-On The Rocks (England); and Esther WilsonTen Tiny Toes(England).

The 2009 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize awards will be marked with a ceremony in London on February 25th. Star of stage and screen and Blackburn Prize Judge, Sigourney Weaver, will present the awards.  The winner will be awarded $20,000, and will also receive a signed and numbered print by renowned artist Willem de Kooning, created especially for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. A Special Commendation of $5,000 may be given at the discretion of the judges, and each of the additional finalists receives $1,000.

The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize reflects the values and interests of Susan Smith Blackburn, noted American actress and writer who lived in London during the last 15 years of her life.  She died in 1977 at the age of 42. Over 300 plays have been chosen as finalists since the prize was instituted in 1977. Over 60 of them are frequently produced in the United States today. Six Blackburn finalist plays have gone on to win the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. The authors of those plays, Margaret Edson, Beth Henley, Marsha Norman, Suzan-Lori Parks, Paula Vogel and Wendy Wasserstein are the only women to have done so since the Blackburn Prize was first established.

“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, 1983 winner for ‘night Mother

“The emergence of women playwrights over the history of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize has spear-headed a change in the position of women in every realm of the theater.”

-Wendy Wasserstein, 1988 winner for The Heidi Chronicles

Other recipients of the honor include Judith Thompson’s Palace of the End, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti's Behzti (Dishonour), Sarah Ruhl's The Clean House, Dael Orlandersmith's Yellowman, Susan Miller's A Map of Doubt and Rescue, Gina Gionfriddo's U.S. Drag, Bridget Carpenter's Fall, Charlotte Jones' Humble Boy, Naomi Wallace’s One Flea Spare, Jessica Goldberg's Refuge, Paula Vogel's How I Learned to Drive, Moira Buffini's Silence and Caryl Churchill’s Serious Money.

In addition to Sigourney Weaver, the international panel of judges for the 2009 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize awards includes Pulitzer prize winning playwright Edward Albee (A Delicate Balance, Seascape, Three Tall Women), noted British playwright and director Peter Gill, British actress Jenny Jules, McCarter Theatre artistic director and award winning playwright Emily Mann, and Genista McIntosh, Executive Director of the Royal National Theatre for many years and currently a Trustee of the Theatres Trust.

Former judges of The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize over the past thirty years are a Who’s Who of the English-speaking theatre and include Eileen Atkins, Blair Brown, Zoe Caldwell, Jill Clayburgh, Glenn Close, Harold Clurman, Colleen Dewhurst, John Guare, A.R. Gurney, Tony Kushner, John Lahr, Marsha Norman, Joan Plowright, Marian Seldes, Fiona Shaw, Tom Stoppard, Meryl Streep, Jessica Tandy, Paula Vogel, Wendy Wasserstein, August Wilson and Joanne Woodward among nearly 200 artists in the United States, England and Ireland.

Each year artistic directors and prominent professionals in the theatre throughout the English-speaking world are asked to submit plays.  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.  Plays are eligible whether or not they have been produced, but any premiere production must have occurred within the preceding year.  Each script receives multiple readings by members of an international reading committee that then selects ten finalists. All six judges read each finalist’s play.

Over 100 plays were submitted for consideration this year.  The submitting theatres of the finalists are: Clean Break, London; Denver Center Theatre Company; the Liverpool Everyman; Hampstead Theatre, London; Juilliard (Playwriting); Manhattan Theatre Club; Playwrights Horizons; The Royal Court Theatre; Sherman Cymru, Cardiff; Victory Gardens Theater, Chicago; and Yale Repertory Theatre.

About the Finalists:

Anupama Chandrasekhar is a runner-up for the London Evening Standard's Charles Wintour Prize 2008 for the Most Promising Playwright for Free Outgoing.   The play was also short-listed for the Peter Wolff-John Whiting Award in the UK.

Lucinda Coxon has worked at the Bush Theatre, Soho Theatre, the Royal Court Theatre, and the National Theatre in London.  Happy Now? won the Writer’s Guild of Great Britain 2008 Best Play Award.  

Ann Marie Healy is a five-time finalist for Actors Theater of Louisville's Heideman Short Play Award and a finalist for The Perishable Theater's International Women's Playwriting Festival. She is a member of MCC's Playwrights Coalition.

Michele Lowe is the author of Inana which recently premiered at the Denver Center Theatre.  Her play String of Pearls received an Outer Critics Circle Award nomination for Outstanding Off-Broadway Play. Her work appears in New Playwrights/The Best Plays of 2005 (Smith & Knaus, 2006), The Best Women's Stage Monologues 2005 (Smith & Knaus, 2006) and Monologues for Women by Women (Heinemann, 2004).

Elizabeth Meriwether is a recipient of the Newsday Oppenheimer Award for her play Heddatron.  She is currently working on commissions from the Yale Repertory Theatre, Ars Nova, and Manhattan Theatre Club.

Chloe Moss is a previous Blackburn Prize Finalist for her play, How Love is Spelt.  A graduate of the Royal Court young writers programme, she has been a writer-in-residence at the Bush Theatre and Paines Plough and also writes for television.

Lynn Nottage has been honored with a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” Award, the 2004 PEN/Laura Pels award for Literary Excellence, two ATT Onstage Awards, a Heideman Award, and numerous best play awards, including the OBIE.  She is a previous Blackburn Prize Finalist for her play Mud, River, Stone.  Ruined is currently running at the Manhattan Theatre Club.

Kaite O'Reilly has won various awards for her work, including the Peggy Ramsay Award for YARD (Bush Theatre, London), Manchester Evening News Best New Play of 2004 for Perfect (Contact Theatre Dir. John McGrath) and Theatre-Wales Best Play of 2003 for peeling (Graeae Theatre, dir. Jenny Sealey).

Amy Rosenthal has been a playwright-in-residence at the Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre and was a resident writer at the Royal National Studio.  Her play, Henna Night, received a Sunday Times Drama Award.

Esther Wilson is best known as lead writer on the hard-hitting docu-drama Unprotected, which premiered at the Liverpool Everyman in March 2006.  It raised the national debate on proposed safety zones in city centres for street sex workers and went on to win the Amnesty International Award for Freedom of Speech at the Edinburgh Festival that summer.

This page last updated February 2009