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Theatre critic Vinson Cunningham. (Photo by: Jane Bruce)

Vinson Cunningham Wins 2021-22 Nathan Award for Criticism

The prestigious award comes with a $10,000 prize and commemorative trophy.

ITHACA, N.Y.: Theatre critic Vinson Cunningham of The New Yorker has received the 2021-22 George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism. Endowed by esteemed critic and editor George Jean Nathan, and conferred by the department chairs of English at Cornell, Princeton, and Yale Universities, the Nathan Award is administered by Cornell’s Department of Literatures in English in the College of Arts and Sciences. The award comes with a $10,000 prize and commemorative trophy.

The award committee praised Cunningham for his “lucid, lyrical, and evocative prose, through which he draws his readers into the performance moments he chronicles.” The committee added that it was equally struck by his cogent remarks on art, politics, history, and culture in relation to the contemporary theatre. 

The committee singled out his piece on Aleshea Harris’s “What to Send Up When It Goes Down,” in which Cunningham reflects on the return to live in-person performances and considers the implications for audiences and actors of current representations of violence on Black bodies, as well as the forms and techniques artists deploy “to make theatre new by reaching back to its old, mysterious, ceremonial roots.”

The committee noted that Cunningham “poses questions, hypothesizes interpretive possibilities, and provides images of theatrical events that have moved, disturbed, or impressed him, leaving open a space for implied dialogue—for his readers to engage and meet minds with him.”

The selection committee aims to foster the spirit of the award by recognizing criticism which demonstrates the highest level of critical thinking about theatre. U.S. authors, critics, or reviewers whose works are published in books, newspapers, magazines, and other periodicals, or in electronic form, or broadcast on television or radio programs, are eligible for consideration, with special interest paid to writings in dramatic criticism dealing with current or recent productions. Recent Nathan Award winners include Maya Phillips, Alexis Soloski, and Soraya Nadia McDonald.

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