The Playgoer: Not the Pulitzer, but...

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Not the Pulitzer, but...

Thankfully the US branch of the international writers' group PEN still includes drama in its award offerings.

The PEN/Laura Pels Foundation Awards for Drama recognize a master American dramatist and an American playwright in mid-career, both of whose literary achievements are vividly apparent in the rich and striking language of their work. The former receives a rare first edition of dramatic literature, the latter a $7,500 stipend. The awards are made possible by a grant from the Laura Pels Foundation and were developed to reflect Laura Pels’ dedication to supporting excellence in American theater, as well as PEN’s commitment to recognizing and rewarding the literary accomplishments of playwrights. The award is made possible by a contribution from Bauman Rare Books. The judges for this year’s awards were Richard Nelson, Theresa Rebeck, and Sarah Ruhl.

This year’s Master playwright award goes to Sam Shepard, best known for his plays Buried Child, Curse of the Starving Class, True West, Fool for Love, and A Lie of the Mind. The mid-career award goes to Nilo Cruz, whose works include Anna in the Tropics, Beauty of the Father, Lorca in a Green Dress, Two Sisters and a Piano, A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings, Dancing on Her Knees, and A Park in Our House.

Rare first editions??? That's gotta be the strangest playwriting award out there.

Perhaps Sam will emblazon a sign on his shelf: I wrote Buried Child and True West and all I got were these old books.

On the one hand we can file this under Playwriting Awards for Playwrights Who Don't Need Them. But then again, at least Nilo Cruz has had only one hit play and could probably use $7500 to tide him over for the two or three months that lasts in NY nowadays.

I notice the PEN awards actually give $10,000 prizes to novelists and nonfiction books, then $7500 to playwrights, then $5000 to poetry. As if the amount were tied to the cultural cachet (or just plain financial intake) of the genre. When in fact, shouldn't the scale be the direct inverse? Big novelists get advances way more than $10,000. And poets are lucky to ever see four figures for their work at all.

1 comment:

Ken said...

Not that I would deny either of these guys the recognition their works deserves (though I don't know much about Cruz's plays, I'll accept the idea that he's a significant American dramatist), but it would be great if more cash prizes went to the cash-strapped. More awards for "emerging" or "promising" writers would be a better use of the money, since you're investing in a young talent who, with any luck, will repay that investment with good work for a long time to come.
And it's not like PEN is desperate for the publicity that giving an award to Shepard is obviously going to bring their way. They're already one of the world's most significant literary organizations.