Professor Vinson Cunningham Wins 2021-2022 Nathan Award for Criticism

Anastasia Ellis
April 13, 2023

Adjunct Assistant Professor Vinson Cunningham was awarded the 2021-2022 George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism. The Nathan Award, which seeks to recognize work that demonstrates the highest level of critical thinking about theatre and is administered by Cornell University’s Department of Literatures in English, is endowed by esteemed critic and editor George Jean Nathan. It comes with a $10,000 prize and a commemorative trophy. 

Cunningham, who is a theatre critic for The New Yorker, was praised by the award committee for his clear, musical, and thought-provoking prose. The committee expressed that Cunningham makes cogent remarks on politics, history, art, and culture in conversation with contemporary theatre. His criticism poses questions, hypotheses, and images meant to engage his readers in conversation—often about what moves, disturbs, impresses, or inspires them on stages.  

Cunningham’s July 2021 article, “Aleshea Harris’s Ritual for the Living,” which reviewed Harris’s play What to Send Up When It Goes Down, was singled out by the award committee. In that New Yorker article, Cunningham reflects on New York theatre audiences’ return to in-person performances in the wake of pandemic closures and considers the implications of theatre’s representations of violence against Black bodies on current audiences and actors. He considers the techniques used by artists to “make theatre new by reaching back to its old, mysterious, ceremonial roots.”

U.S. authors, reviewers, or critics whose works are published in books, newspapers, magazines, other periodicals, electronic media, or television or radio broadcasts are all eligible for consideration for the Nathan Award. Special interest is paid to dramatic criticism writings that focus on recent productions. 

Vinson Cunningham is a staff writer and theatre critic at The New Yorker. His essays, reviews, and profiles have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, FADER, Vulture, The Awl, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and Commonweal. In 2020, he was a finalist for a National Magazine Award for his profile of the comedian Tracy Morgan. Cunningham is a former White House staffer under the Obama administration. His debut novel, The Party Year, is forthcoming from Hogarth/Random House.