Alumna Lauren Whitehead ’14 Named a Finalist for Susan Smith Blackburn Prize

BY Emma Schillage, February 16, 2022

Dramaturgy alumna Lauren Whitehead '14 has been named a finalist for the 2022 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. In its 44th year, The Susan Blackburn Prize is the oldest and largest prize for women+ writing for the English-speaking theater. Women+ includes women, transgender, and non-binary playwrights.

 

Whitehead was named a finalist for a play that she conceived and developed with fellow Columbia alumnus Scott Ebersold ’14. The piece is entitled The Play Which Raises the Question of What Happened in/to Low Income Black Communities between 1974 and 2004 And Hints at Why Mass Incarceration is Perhaps a Man-Made Disease And Highlights the Government's General Lack of Empathy for Poor People of Color And Dispels the Notion that Our Condition is Our Fault And Helps Make Visible Why We Riot When We Mourn And also Tells the Story of Anita Freeman & her Kids. When asked about being named a finalist, Whitehead said, “I am so honored to be among the incredible group of writers this year. When I look at the legit legends who The Blackburn Prize has recognized in the past, I'm absolutely gobsmacked to be among them, to have my name on that list. It's an extraordinary thing to see my name alongside writers that I love, that I read and re-read and teach."

The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize is awarded annually to celebrate women+ who have written works of outstanding quality for the English-speaking theatre. Each year, artistic directors and prominent professionals are invited to submit plays. Each script is read multiple times by an international reading committee that selects the finalists. An international panel of six judges then chooses the winning play.

 

Each finalist was chosen from a group of over 160 submissions worldwide. The winner will be announced in April of this year and will receive a $25,000 cash prize. Each of the additional finalists will receive an award of $5,000.

 

Lauren Whitehead is a writer, performer, and dramaturg. She writes in several forms, including poetry, nonfiction, adaptations, and drama. Her poems have been published in online and print magazines, including POETRY, Apogee Journal, Winter Tangerine, and selected anthologies such as Break Beat Poets, Vol. 2: Black Girl Magic. Last year, a poem dedicated to her grandfather, a barber and a sharecropper, was featured on The Slow Down with former Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith. In 2018, Whitehead adapted the text of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ award-winning memoir, Between the World and Me, for staging at the Apollo Theater, the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, and the TV adaptation on HBO. In her most recent performance, Whitehead originated the lead role of “Un/Sung” in the opera We Shall Not Be Moved, which she performed at the Wilma Theater, the Apollo Theater, and at the Stadsschouwburg Theater in Amsterdam (Dir. Bill T. Jones). Whitehead has been a Sundance Theater Lab Fellow, a Sundance Talent Forum Fellow, and she has worked as a dramaturg at The Public Theater, Hedgebrook, and at The Denver Center for Performing Arts. Currently, Whitehead is an Assistant Arts Professor of Drama at NYU Tisch School of the Arts.