NEW YORK CITY: The Whiting Foundation has announced in a virtual ceremony the 10 winners of the 2021 Whiting Awards, celebrating emerging writers in the fields of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama. Jordan E. Cooper, Donnetta Lavinia Grays, and Sylvia Khoury are this year’s winners in drama, with each winner receiving a $50,000 prize.
“In a year of singular difficulty, these writers accessed joy, honoring past voices in their own family histories, and in the culture,” said Courtney Hodell, director of literary programs, in a statement. “To a striking degree, they move fluidly across restrictive genre borderlines to create a vibrant picture of new writing in this country.”
Joining the three drama winners are Steven Dunn and Tope Folarin in fiction; Joshua Bennett and Sarah Stewart Johnson in nonfiction; and Marwa Helal, Ladan Osman, and Xandria Phillips in poetry.
The 2021 Whiting Awards judges called Jordan E. Cooper’s work, which includes Black Boy Fly, Ain’t No Mo’, and Alice Wonder, “hilarious, bombastic, electric” plays that “celebrate spectacle and explode conventions, mixing the taboo with the silly, the profound with the profane.”
Donnetta Lavinia Grays’s work includes Where We Stand, Warriors Don’t Cry, and Last Night and the Night Before, with the judges stating that Grays’s “portrayal of family—its complicated manifestations of love, its convoluted sense of responsibility—feels revelatory; we come to know her characters as deeply as anyone in our lives.”
In commenting on Sylvia Khoury’s work, including Selling Kabul, The Place Women Go, and Against the Hillside, the judges noted the plays’ “focus on the U.S. presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan; evoking grand geopolitical drama through simple human gesture,” and praised the way the plays “break down barriers between human beings, revealing the powerful lines of connection that exist and persist.”
The Whiting Awards, founded in 1985, remain one of the most esteemed and largest monetary gifts to emerging writers, and are based on the criteria of early-career achievement and the promise of superior literary work to come. A total of $8.5 million has been awarded to more than 360 fiction and nonfiction writers, poets, and playwrights to date. Past winners in the drama category include August Wilson, Suzan-Lori Parks, Tony Kushner, Michael R. Jackson, and Will Arbery.
Jordan E. Cooper is an Obie-winning playwright and performer most recently chosen as one of Out Magazine’s Entertainers of the Year. Last spring’s run of his play Ain’t No Mo’, a New York Times Critic’s Pick, sold out. Jordan created a pandemic-centered short film called “Mama Got A Cough” that has been featured in National Geographic and was named “Best Theater of 2020″ by NY Times. He is currently filming The Ms. Pat Show, an R-rated “old school” sitcom he created for BET+, which will debut later this year. He can also be seen as Tyrone in the final season of FX’s Pose.
Donnetta Lavinia Grays is a Brooklyn-based playwright who proudly hails from Columbia, S.C. Her plays include Where We Stand, Warriors Don’t Cry, Last Night and the Night Before, Laid to Rest, The Review or How to Eat Your Opposition, The New Normal, and The Cowboy Is Dying. Donnetta is a Lucille Lortel, Drama League, and AUDELCO Award Nominee. She is the recipient of the Helen Merrill Playwright Award, National Theater Conference Barrie and Bernice Stavis Playwright Award, Lilly Award, and Todd McNerney National Playwriting Award. She is the inaugural recipient of the Doric Wilson Independent Playwright Award. She is currently under commission from Steppenwolf, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, WP Theater, and True Love Productions.
Sylvia Khoury is a New York-born writer of French and Lebanese descent. Her plays include Selling Kabul (Playwrights Horizons, Williamstown Theater Festival), Power Strip (LCT3), Against the Hillside (Ensemble Studio Theater), and The Place Women Go. She is currently under commission from Lincoln Center, Williamstown Theater Festival, and Seattle Repertory Theater. Awards include the L. Arnold Weissberger Award and Jay Harris Commission and a Citation of Excellence from the Laurents/Hatcher Awards. She is a member of EST/Youngblood and a previous member of the 2018-2019 Rita Goldberg Playwrights’ Workshop at The Lark and the 2016-2018 WP Lab. Her plays have been developed at Playwrights Horizons, Williamstown Theater Festival, Eugene O’Neill Playwrights’ Conference, Roundabout Theater Underground, Lark Playwrights’ Week, EST/Youngblood, and WP Theater. She holds a B.A. from Columbia University and an MFA from the New School for Drama. She will obtain her M.D. from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in May 2021.
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