School of the Arts Alumni Win 2022 Pulitzer Prizes
BY Emily Johnson, May 12, 2022
The 2022 Pulitzer Prizes were announced on May 9, 2022, and three School of the Arts alumni are involved with winning projects in the arts. Adjunct Associate Professor of Writing Joshua Cohen has been awarded the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel The Netanyahus: An Account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family. The Pulitzer Prize for Drama was awarded to Fat Ham, a new play directed by alumnus Saheem Ali '07 and starring alumnus Marcel Spears '15.
Fiction winner The Netanyahus is an ambitious, genre-defiant novel, set in 1959. It follows Ruben Blum, a historian at the fictional Corbin College in upstate New York. Blum finds himself obligated to play host to an exiled Israeli scholar being considered for a professorship in the history department—Benzion Netanyahu, who readers may be familiar with as the father of real-life former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Blending fact, fiction, and satire, with the well-loved textures of the campus novel and the rigor of political and societal commentary, The Netanyahus also received the 2021 National Jewish Book Award for Fiction.
The Pulitzer jury praised The Netanyahus as “A mordant, linguistically deft historical novel about the ambiguities of the Jewish-American experience, presenting ideas and disputes as volatile as its tightly-wound plot.”
Drama winner Fat Ham, written by James Ijames, is a contemporary revisioning of Hamlet. The Prince of Denmark becomes Juicy: a queer, Southern college student trying to get by at a family barbecue, when his father’s ghost appears in the backyard demanding vengeance.
Fat Ham premiered virtually in 2021, produced by Philadelphia's Wilma Theater, but its in-person and New York premier, co-produced by The Public Theater and National Black Theatre, is directed by alumnus Saheem Ali '07, and stars Acting alumnus Marcel Spears '15.
Commended by the Pulitzer jury as “a funny, poignant play that deftly transposes "Hamlet" to a family barbecue in the American South to grapple with questions of identity, kinship, responsibility, and honesty,” Fat Ham will premiere at The Public's Anspacher Theater on May 12, 2022 and run until June 12, 2022.
Joshua Cohen was born in 1980 in Atlantic City. He has published nine books, including the novels Moving Kings, Book of Numbers, Witz, A Heaven of Others, and Cadenza for the Schneidermann Violin Concerto, the short fiction collections Four New Messages and The Quorum, and the nonfiction collection Attention: Dispatches from a Land of Distraction. In 2015, he collaborated with Useless Press on PCKWCK, the world's first live-written online novel, and, in 2017, he was named one of Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists.
Since graduating with his MFA in acting from Columbia University, Marcel Spears has worked consistently on stage. Most recently, he co-starred in the west coast premiere of Ironbound at the Geffen Playhouse. Spears made his television series debut in 2017 with “The Mayor,” the acclaimed comedy created by Jeremy Bronson and executive produced by Daveed Diggs and Jamie Tarses. He currently has a starring role on CBS's The Neighborhood.
Saheem Ali is a New York-based theater director focused on new work. Recent credits include Dangerous House (Williamstown Theater Festival), Sugar in Our Wounds (MTC), Tartuffe (Playmakers Rep), and Twelfth Night (Public Theater). He has workshopped new plays at Playwrights Horizons, Playwrights Realm, MCC, New York Stage & Film, Page 73, and The Lark. He is a Usual Suspect and former Directing Fellow at New York Theater Workshop, a Gielgud SDCF Fellow, and a Shubert Fellow.