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Maya Phillips. (Photo by Molly Walsh)

Maya Phillips Wins Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism

The New York Times critic at large was cited for chronicling a tumultuous year in live art.

ITHACA, N.Y.: Maya Phillips, a critic at large for The New York Times, has been named winner of the 2020-21 George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism.

The award committee noted in an announcement of the award that Phillips “chronicled a tumultuous, uncertain year in live art—one in which COVID-tested New York theatres recalibrated their online presence and carefully returned to in-person performance…Phillips recognized that the most daring artists took advantage of the cultural and political dislocations to undo norms of representation.”

The committee comprises the heads of the English departments of Cornell, Princeton, and Yale universities, and is administered by Cornell’s Department of Literatures in English in the College of Arts and Sciences.

The committee added that many of Phillips’s reviews and essays in 2020-21, taken together, create a powerful account of Black theatre, singling out for praise Phillips’s reviews of James Ijames’s brutal comedy The Most Spectacularly Lamentable Trial of Miz Martha Washington, and of Claudia Rankine’s November, which asks its audience to rethink assumptions about privilege and injustice. In the latter review, published on the eve of the 2020 election, Phillips wrote: “If you’re not grappling with why these questions are necessary right now, then you are doing something wrong.”

Phillips’s arts and entertainment journalism has appeared in American Theatre magazine, as well as the New Yorker, Vulture, Slate, the Week, Mashable, Polygon, and elsewhere. She is the author of the poetry collection Erou, a finalist for the PEN Open Book Award, and winner of the 2019 Balcones Poetry Prize and 2020 Poetry by the Sea book award.

The Nathan Award was endowed by Cornell University alumnus George Jean Nathan (1882-1958), a prominent theatre critic who published 34 books on the theatre and co-edited, with H.L. Mencken, two influential magazines, the Smart Set and the American Mercury. Recent Nathan Award winners include Alexis Soloski, Soraya Nadia McDonald, John H. Muse, Helen Shaw, and Sara Holdren.

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