Columbia University Announces Winner of 2017 Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History

February 22, 2017
A 24-Decade History of Popular Music: A Radical Fairy Realness Ritual by Taylor Mac and Matt Ray

A scene from Act III titled Puppets, Whitman and Civil War. Photo by Teddy Wolff

Columbia University and Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith are pleased to announce that A 24-Decade History of Popular Music: A Radical Fairy Realness Ritual by Taylor Mac and Matt Ray is the 2017 winner of the Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History.

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.

Produced by Pomegranate Arts and Nature’s Darlings, A 24-Decade History of Popular Music premiered the first of eight three-hour-long “Acts” in mid-September 2016 at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, followed by a 24-hour marathon performance in October.

Mac and Ray will receive an award of $100,000.

Playwright Taylor Mac

Taylor Mac

Musicals and plays that were initially produced in 2015 or 2016 were eligible for the 2017 prize. The other finalists, announced on January 13, were: Roe by Lisa Loomer, produced by Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Berkeley Rep and Arena Stage; Sweat by Lynn Nottage, produced by Oregon Shakespeare Festival; Vietgone by Qui Nguyen, produced by South Coast Repertory; and Indecent by Paula Vogel, produced by Yale Repertory Theatre.

The voting jury for the 2017 Kennedy Prize included: Carol Becker, Dean of the School of the Arts, Columbia University; Amy Herzog, playwright; Quiara Alegría Hudes, playwright and librettist; Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies, Columbia University; Robert O’Hara, playwright and director; Kate Moira Ryan, playwright; James Shapiro, Larry Miller Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University; Imani Uzuri, composer; and Tracey Scott Wilson, playwright.

According to the jury, “A vast, immersive, subversive, audacious and outrageous theater experience, Mac's and Ray’s piece employs a variety of performance techniques to illuminate and explode our country's history as seen through the lens of its popular music. This piece shows, in Mac's words, how ‘in America, the oppressor is forgiven but the outsider is vilified.’”

Playwright Matt Ray

Matt Ray

The panel of jurors is selected each year from a pool of playwrights, musical theater 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 any kind of 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 theater 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 theater.

The Prize Board of Governors includes: Mandy Hackett, Associate Director, The Public Theater, New York, NY; 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; and Amanda Smith, author.

To learn more, visit kennedyprize.columbia.edu