Columbia University Announces Winner of 2015 Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History

Suzan-LoriParks Suzan-Lori Parks. Photo credit: Stephanie Diani

Ambassador Smith created the prize to honor the life and legacy of her brother, the late senator from Massachusetts. The prize is announced each year on or near his birthday, February 22.

“We are thrilled to award this year's prize to Suzan-Lori Parks’ Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3, an exceptional work that exemplifies the mission of the prize to explore the history of our country through the power of theatre," said Ambassador Smith.  "Ted was a great student of American history and enjoyed theatre immensely, and I know he would salute this deserving young artist's success and her illumination of important historical issues that affect our country."

Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3 received its world premiere at The Public Theater on October 14, 2014 in a co-production with A.R.T. (American Repertory Theater) at Harvard University as part of The National Civil War Project.

Ms. Parks will receive an award of $100,000. The Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning at Columbia University Libraries will work with her to create a website featuring study and teaching guides, historical research and scholarly discussions and interpretations of the plays. The website will be available to any theatre artist, teacher or class studying the work and its historical context.   

FatherWar0464rR A scene from Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3

“We at the Columbia University Libraries are honored to administer the Kennedy Prize, and in doing so are delighted to recognize outstanding new contributions to American theatre,” said Damon Jaggars, Columbia’s interim vice provost and University Librarian. “The educational website created for the winning play will provide an important resource for teachers and students of history and drama from all over the world.”

Plays and musicals which were first professionally produced in 2013 or 2014 were eligible for this year’s award. The other finalists, announced on December 18, were Appropriate by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, The Great Society by Robert Schenkkan, The House that Will not Stand by Marcus Gardley, and An Octoroon by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.

“The jury deeply admires all five of this year's nominated works and was struck by the fact that each in its own way addresses, with eloquence and insight, the as-yet-unhealed traumas brought on by the legacy of American slavery,” said the panel of jurors for this year’s prize. “From amongst this distinguished group, the jury awards the Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History to Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3 by Suzan-Lori Parks.  The story of Hero, a slave who chooses to fight on behalf of the Confederacy, feels fresh and alive, shining new light on the complicated nature of freedom. In its unflinching treatment of homecoming, betrayal and heroism, Father Comes Home from the Wars announces itself as an iconic work that challenges and engages Western theatrical tradition while providing a compelling contribution to the urgent American conversation about race.”

The voting jury for the 2015 Kennedy Prize included Carol Becker, Dean of Columbia University School of the Arts; Kristoffer Diaz, playwright, educator; Farah Jasmine Griffin, William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African American Studies, Columbia University; Rinne Groff, playwright, performer; Stephen Adly Guirgis, playwright, screenwriter, director, actor; David Henry Hwang, playwright, Associate Professor of Theatre Arts in the Faculty of the Arts, Columbia University; Gabriel Kahane, composer, singer-songwriter; James Shapiro, Larry Miller Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University; and John Weidman, librettist.

The panel of jurors is selected each year from a pool of playwrights, musical theatre writers, lyricists, composers and scholars of literature, American history or political science. 

The size of the award places the Kennedy Prize among the most generous given for dramatic writing, and indeed for writing in America, while the commitment to developing publicly accessible educational content makes the prize unique among dramatic and literary awards.

The Kennedy Prize contributes to an elevation of the standards of precision, intellectual rigor and seriousness with which dramatic literature is approached by theatre artists, audiences, educators, students and critics. Ambassador Smith, in honor of her late brother, hopes that the prize will galvanize a new and vigorous exploration of American history and the institutions of American politics among dramatists and creators of musical theatre.

The Prize Board of Governors includes Mary Schmidt Campbell, Dean Emerita, Tisch School of the Arts, New York University; Mandy Hackett, Associate Director, The Public Theater, New York, New York; Jean Howard, George Delacorte Professor in the Humanities and Chair, Department of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University; Alice Kessler-Harris, R. Gordon Hoxie Professor of American History in Honor of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Columbia University; Tony Kushner, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright; Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith, Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient; Tim Pierce, Director, Executive Education Custom Programs, Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management; and Amanda Smith, author.

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