Zakiya Iman Markland, Linus Roache, and Henry Stram in "Junk" at La Jolla Playhouse, in La Jolla, Calif., in 2016. (Photo by Jim Carmody)

Ayad Akhtar’s ‘Junk’ Wins 2018 Kennedy Prize for Drama

Akhtar will receive a cash prize of $100,000 for his play about junk bond tycoons of the 1980s.

NEW YORK CITY: Columbia University and Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith have named Junk by Ayad Akhtar as the recipient of the 2018 Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History. Akhtar will receive a cash prize of $100,000.

The prize is given annually through Columbia University to a new play or musical of merit that explores the history of the United States and meaningfully engages with issues today. Musicals and plays initially produced in 2016 or 2017 were eligible for this year’s prize. The 2018 voting jury included Carol Becker, Kristoffer Diaz, Gabriel Kahane, Shamus Khan, Steven Levenson, Mona Mansour, Kate Moira Ryan, James Shapiro, and Imani Uzuri.

Junk takes on the vexed question of inequity dividing American society,” said the jury in a statement. “It trenchantly examines the financial behavior and the flawed system of thought in the 1980s that paved the way for the polarized world in which we now live—manufacturing debt. In doing so, it speaks directly to the aims of the prize, enlisting theatre’s power to explore America’s past, and through that, speak to our present, so crucial to the health of our democracy.”

Junk, produced by Lincoln Center Theater, premiered on Broadway at the Vivian Beaumont Theater Oct. 5-Jan. 7. The play was first produced by La Jolla Playhouse in 2016.

This year’s finalists included Roe by Lisa Loomer, Skeleton Crew by Dominique Morisseau, and King of the Yees by Lauren Yee.

The award was established by Ambassador Smith to honor her brother, the late Senator Kennedy. The prize is announced every year on or near his birthday, Feb. 22.