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Sanaz Toossi.

Sanaz Toossi Wins 2023 Pulitzer for Drama for ‘English’

The finalists are Aleshea Harris for ‘On Sugarland’ and Lloyd Suh for ‘The Far Country.’

NEW YORK CITY: This year’s Pulitzer Prize for Drama, which includes a $15,000 award, has been awarded to Sanaz Toossi for her play English, a drama about linguistic and cultural misunderstanding set in a classroom in Iran, which had its premiere at the Atlantic Theater Company in 2022. The Atlantic was also the original producer of Lloyd Suh’s The Far Country, one of the other two Pulitzer finalists, while New York Theatre Workshop was where Aleshea Harris’s On Sugarland, the other finalist, had its debut.

The Pulitzer committee described Toossi’s play as “a quietly powerful play about four Iranian adults preparing for an English-language exam in a storefront school near Tehran, where family separations and travel restrictions drive them to learn a new language that may alter their identities and also represent a new life.”

Toossi’s plays have been lauded for their frankness and humor, and for the way they capture the voices of their characters, particularly the women. As she told Diep Tran in this magazine last year, “Someone said to me once…‘The way these women talk, you’re making a point, right? That Muslim women, Middle Eastern women, speak this way.’ Is it making a point when you’re just representing your own life? I don’t know. I just feel like that’s only something that would be tagged on a playwright of color, like, ‘Oh, you’re making a point talking about the very basic aspects of your life.’”

Hadi Tabbal and Marjan Neshat in Sanaz Toossi’s “English.” (Photo by Ahron R. Foster)

Suh’s The Far Country follows an unlikely family’s journey from rural Taishan to the Wild West of California in the wake of the Chinese Exclusion Act, and Harris’s On Sugarland is set among three mobile homes in a Southern cul-de-sac while a war rages on outside, and within, its confines.

This year’s jury for the Drama prize was chaired by David John Chávez, who is also the chair of the American Theatre Critics Association and correspondent for San Jose Mercury News as well as for American Theatre; Vinson Cunningham, staff writer at The New Yorker; Soraya Nadia McDonald, senior culture critic, Andscape; Heidi Schreck, playwright-performer; and one of last year’s finalists for Drama, playwright-performance artist Kristina Wong.

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