Yale Drama Series Award Goes to Barbara Seyda for ‘Celia, a Slave’

The playwright’s docutheatre piece, about an infamous case involving a young slave convicted for killing her master, takes top prize.

NEW YORK CITY: The Yale Drama Series Prize this year has gone to Barbara Seyda for her play Celia, a Slave: 26 Characters Testify.  The 2015 award recipient of this annual prize for emerging playwrights was selected by playwright Nicholas Wright, who serves as judge for the competition this year and next. This year’s runners-up are Craig Thornton for The High Cost of Heating and Abe Koogler for Kill Floor.

Barbara Seyda, winner of the ninth Yale Drama Series Prize, at DeGrazia Chapel, in Tucson, Ariz. (Photo by A.T. Willett)
Barbara Seyda, winner of the ninth Yale Drama Series Prize, at DeGrazia Chapel, in Tucson, Ariz. (Photo by A.T. Willett)

“I’m thrilled to choose Barbara Seyda’s play for the 2015 Yale Drama Series,” Wright said in a statement.  “My reason for rating the play so highly was the thick lump of pain that it placed in my chest and that I carried around with me for days afterwards. I had a completely primitive and intuitive reaction to the tragedy of the story and to the whole of life, in a way.”

The prize comes with $10,000 from the David Charles Horn Foundation. In a statement, the foundation’s president, Francine Horn, said, “From the moment I began the play, I could not stop reading.  And, like Nicholas Wright, it stayed with me for a very long time. The horrors just don’t seem to go away.  What was, still is.   So, with a full heart I welcome Barbara Seyda to our small family of winners, and applaud her effort to point out the horrors of racism and the failure of justice, not for all.”

Celia, a Slave is based on the trial transcripts and court records from the State of Missouri vs. Celia, a Slave, a notorious 1855 case in which a 19-year-old slave was accused, convicted and hanged for killing her 66-year-old master, a prosperous Missouri landowner.  The play is a tableau of interviews with the dead.

Now in its ninth year, the Yale Drama Series Prize is given out annually for a play by an emerging playwright, selected by a preeminent playwright. In addition to the prize money, the winner’s play is published by Yale University Press and receives a staged reading at Lincoln Center Theater’s Claire Tow Theater. Emerging playwrights from around the world are invited to submit original, unpublished, full-length English-language plays for consideration. Seyda’s play was selected from among 1,478 entries from 47 countries.

Barbara Seyda is a writer, editor, photographer and designer based in Tucson, Ariz. She has a B.S. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an M.F.A. from Mason Gross School of Art, Rutgers University. British playwright Nicholas Wright has written more than 30 plays, libretti and screenplays, including  Vincent in BrixtonMrs. Klein and Traveling Light.

Previous winners of the prize include John Austin Connolly, selected by Edward Albee in 2007; Neil Wechsler, selected by Albee in 2008); Fraces Ya-Chu Cowhig, selected by David Hare in 2009; Virginia Grise, selected by Hare in 2010; Shannon Murdoch, selected by John Guare in 2011; Clarence Coo, selected by Guare in 2012; Jen Silverman, selected by Marsha Norman in 2013; and Janine Nabors, selected by Norman in 2014.

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