Lynn Nottage Wins 2016 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize

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Professor Lynn Nottage has been awarded the 2016 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for her play Sweat. The prize, now in its 38th year, celebrates female playwrights who have written works for the English-speaking theatre.

Co-commissioned by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Arena Stage, Sweat follows a group of workers in Reading, Pa., who are faced with the loss of their jobs as the city’s local steel mill undergoes changes. The play is the result of extensive research and on-the-ground interviews conducted in Reading, which was ranked the nation’s poorest city in 2012.

“I found it really fascinating that one of the poorest cities was in the Northeast, because we usually think of the Rust Belt, we think of the South, but this poverty is so close to us,” Nottage said in an interview with American Theater.

Sweat was commissioned by Oregon Shakespeare’s “American Revolutions” commissioning project, which is about significant points in American history. “When Oregon Shakes first came around, they said, ‘Figure out what are the pivotal moments you want to address,’” Nottage told American Theater. “They wanted us to write big plays about American history. The revolution I’m looking at is the ‘de-industrial’ revolution, which is one of the great revolutions in American history, and I was thinking: By the time I write this play it will be history. I think it’s one of the more pivotal moments; I do think it’s going to be a moment that will impact the next 100 years.”

Reviews have been stellar for Sweat, which was also nominated for a Kennedy Center Prize this year. Charles Isherwood writes in the New York Times,“From first moments to last, this compassionate but clear-eyed play throbs with heartfelt life, with characters as complicated as any you’ll encounter at the theater today, and with a nifty ticking time bomb of a plot.” The play just completed its run at Arena Stage and is rumored to be coming to New York next season.

Nottage, who works with students in the Theatre Program’s Playwriting Concentration, won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for her play Ruined.

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