The 2021 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize has been awarded to U.S. playwright Erika Dickerson-Despenza for her play about the Flint, Michigan water crisis, cullud wattah.
Awarded annually since 1977, The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize is the largest and oldest international prize honoring Women+ playwrights. This evening a livestream of the award ceremony honoured Dickerson-Despenza and the other 9 Finalists. Award-winning star of stage and screen, and one of this year’s Blackburn Prize Judges, Paapa Essiedu, announced the winning play, which comes with an award of $25,000 and a signed and numbered print by artist Willem de Kooning.
“What a play. Oh my God, what a play! When I say that this play hit me like a train. Like a ton of bricks. I don’t think I slept for about three weeks after reading this play. It did something very significant to me. … Through its passionate exploration of the black female experience in America right now I feel like this play is going to be a classic of today and of years to come,” said Paapa Essiedu on presenting the Prize.
The Judges of the 2021 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize also awarded two Special Commendations to finalists, a rare move which speaks to the strength of this year’s field of writers. Kimber Lee’s The Water Palace and Ife Olujobi’s Jordans each were awarded the $10,000 Special Commendation.
In addition to Essiedu, the international panel of judges for the 2021 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize included theatre, opera and film director Natalie Abrahami (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).
Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-Winning playwright, Marsha Norman, hosted the Prize Ceremony. Ms. Norman won the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize in 1983 for her play ‘night Mother, and is a board member emeritus for the Prize. Jenny Jules, star of Broadway’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, former Blackburn Prize Judge and current Board Member, introduced the Judges, who spoke of the importance of each Finalist’s play.
The list of 2021 Finalists for The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, chosen from over 150 plays, includes Glace Chase (Aus./U.S.) Triple X; Miranda Rose Hall (U.S.) A Play for Living in the Time of Extinction; Dawn King (U.K.), The Trials; Janice Okoh (U.K.), The Gift; Frances Poet (U.K.), Maggie May; Jihae Park (U.S.), The Aves; and Beth Steel (U.K.), The House of Shades. Each Finalist received an award of $5000.