The 2022 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize has been awarded to UK playwright Benedict Lombe for her debut play Lava.
In a special presentation at Shakespeare’s Globe in London, the Blackburn Prize judges presented Lombe with a cash prize of $25,000, and a signed limited-edition print by renowned artist Willem de Kooning, created especially for the Prize.
Awarded annually since 1978, The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize is the oldest and largest prize awarded to women+ playwrights, and this is the first time in the history of the award the prize has been awarded to a debut play. Each of the additional nine Finalists received an award of $5,000.
Commissioned by the Bush Theatre during the summer of 2020, Lava premiered to critical acclaim at the Bush Theatre, London, in July 2021, performed by Ronke Adékoluejo and directed by Anthony Simpson-Pike. The one-woman show won Best Performance Piece at the 2022 Offies (Off West End Awards). 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.
In discussing the themes of her play, Lombe states, “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.”
In addition to Lombe, the 2022 Finalists for The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize are:
Chiara Atik (US) Poor Clare
Daniella De Jesús (US) Get Your Pink Hands Off Me Sucka and Give Me Back (FKA Columbus Play)
Sarah Hanly (Ireland) Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks
Zora Howard (US) BUST
Sonya Kelly (Ireland) The Last Return
Joanna Murray-Smith (Australia) Berlin
Kae Tempest (UK) Paradise
Amanda Wilkin (UK) Shedding a Skin
Lauren Whitehead (US) 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…”).
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 2022 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize are: 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).