Playwrights Jordan E. Cooper, Donnetta Lavinia Grays, and Sylvia Khoury have been named the 2021 Whiting Award winners for drama. The announcement was made during a virtual ceremony April 14. Each theatre artist will receive a $50,000 prize.
The awards, created in 1986, are given to recognize early-career achievement and to empower recipients to fulfill the promise of exceptional literary work to come. This year’s digital honors included a keynote by former U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy K. Smith, a 2005 Whiting Award winner, and brief readings from each winner, introduced by 2015 winner Elena Passarello.
Cooper (Black Boy Fly, Alice Wonder) wrote and starred in the world premiere of Ain’t No Mo’ at The Public Theater in 2019. The satirical odyssey depicts a great exodus of Black Americans. During the pandemic, the theatre artist received a Steinberg Playwright Award and created the short film Mama Got a Cough, starring Tony nominees Danielle Brooks and Da'Vine Joy Randolph.
Grays (Warriors Don’t Cry, Last Night and the Night Before) wrote and starred in the world premiere of Where We Stand in 2020 at the WP Theater. During the pandemic, the theatre artist joined the Geffen Playhouse’s The Writers' Room 2020–2021 cycle and received The New York Community Trust’s Helen Merrill Award for Playwriting, along with a Lilly Award. A virtual production of Where We Stand will debut later this month as part of Steppenwolf’s NOW season.
Khoury (The Place Women Go, Against the Hillside) was most recently represented Off-Broadway with LCT3’s production of Power Strip at Lincoln Center Theater’s Claire Tow Theater. Her play, Selling Kabul, will plat at Playwrights Horizons in the upcoming season after being delayed due to the pandemic. In the past year, the playwright was named a Williamstown Theatre Festival Artist-in Residence and wrote a piece for the final edition of The Homebound Project.
Additional winners included fiction writers Steven Dunn and Tope Folarin, nonfiction authors Joshua Bennett and Sarah Stewart Johnson, and poets Marwa Helal, Ladan Osman, and Xandria Phillips.
Past winners include 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Drama winner Michael R. Jackson (A Strange Loop) and finalist Will Arbery (Heroes of the Fourth Turning), as well as Tony Kushner, Susan-Lori Parks, August Wilson, Sarah Ruhl, and Lucas Hnath.