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Larissa FastHorse. (Photo by John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

Larissa FastHorse Named MacArthur Fellow

The playwright of ‘The Thanksgiving Play’ is known for creating space for Indigenous artists and stories.

CHICAGO: The MacArthur Foundation has announced its 2020 class of MacArthur Fellows, honoring the creativity and originality of 21 Americans. The fellowship, known colloquially as the “genius grant,” awards each fellow $625,000 over five years for professional pursuits. Playwright Larissa FastHorse is among the grantees, along with singer and composer Cécile McLorin Salvant, fine artist Ralph Lemon, and a host of other visual artists, scientists, legal scholars, and writers. The full list of awardees can be found here.

“Larissa FastHorse is a playwright and performing arts advocate illuminating Indigenous processes of artmaking and storytelling as well as Native American perspectives on contemporary life,” the MacArthur Foundation released in a statement.  “A member of the Sicangu Lakota Nation, FastHorse combines a keen sense of satire and facility with dramatic forms in plays that are funny, incisive, and, at times, deeply unsettling for audiences faced with the realities of Native Americans’ experience in the United States.”

Since hearing the news last month, FastHorse and her husband have been quietly celebrating at home, sitting on the couch and ordering takeout. “The news is incredible and life-changing and exciting—and I had no idea that it was happening at all,” she says, noting that the awards ceremony will take place virtually this year. “I was completely taken by surprise.” FastHorse is grateful for the financial security the award will bring. “That’s what this award is designed for—that kind of freedom where you can stop spending so much of your creative time worrying about paying your rent and start focusing in on just your work.”

During the pandemic, FastHorse has been busy writing for film and television, which has been a creative boon while theatres remain closed. “That’s really saved me creatively during this time, because I’ve had a really rough time with writing for theatre right now,” she says. “I try to write forward, I try to write ahead of our moment, and I honestly can’t see what it is.”

FastHorse began her career as a ballet dancer. She worked in the television and film industry as a creative executive at Universal Pictures and Paramount before becoming an independent playwright and choreographer. Her plays include Native Nation (2019), The Thanksgiving Play (2018),  Cow Pie Bingo (2018), Urban Rez (2016)Landless (2015), Cherokee Family Reunion (2012), and Teaching Disco Squaredancing to Our Elders: A Class Presentation (2008). She has been commissioned by a number of venues across the country, including the Cornerstone Theater Company, the Public Theater, Yale Repertory Theatre, the Children’s Theatre Company of Minneapolis, Native Voices at the Autry, and the Kennedy Center Theater for Young Audiences, among many others. She is the co-founder of Indigenous Direction, which advises on theatre and film projects that address Native issues, and she speaks widely on how to build sustainable, reciprocal relationships with Native American communities.

“This award comes from our community, and all of my work is about creating communities,” says FastHorse. “Knowing that people have been interviewed for the past year and have been recommending me and talking about my work really means so much to me. Obviously the money matters and it’s an incredible gift, but just knowing that the community believes in me and what I’m doing, and believes that I’m worth an investment in the future to keep doing this same kind of work is really incredible. I take that responsibility very seriously.”

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