Columbia University Announces Winner of 2016 Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History

February 22, 2016
Broadway Play Hamilton Cast Lin-Manuel Miranda

Photo by Joan Marcus

NEW YORK, February 22, 2016—Columbia University and Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith are pleased to announce that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton is the 2016 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.

Hamilton, which chronicles the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton—who attended colonial New York’s King's College, which was renamed Columbia shortly after he and his fellow revolutionaries won American independence from the British—received its world premiere at The Public Theatre in New York, NY in February 2015 and transferred to Broadway in August 2015 at the Richard Rogers Theatre.

Mr. Miranda will receive an award of $100,000.

Plays and musicals which were first professionally produced in 2014 or 2015 were eligible for this year’s award. The other finalists, announced on January 27, were: An Octoroon by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, produced by Soho Rep; Indecent by Paula Vogel, produced by Yale Repertory Theatre and La Jolla Playhouse; Sweat by Lynn Nottage, produced by Oregon Shakespeare Festival; Vietgone by Qui Nguyen, produced by South Coast Repertory.


‘Hamilton’ Wins Kennedy Prize for Historical Drama, The New York Times, Feb 22, 2016

The voting jury for the 2016 Kennedy Prize included Kristoffer Diaz, Playwright, Educator; Farah Jasmine Griffin, William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African American Studies, Columbia University; Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies; Mona Mansour, Playwright; Dominique Morisseau, Playwright; James Shapiro, Larry Miller Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University; Jeanine Tesori, Composer, Musical Arranger; Anne Washburn, Playwright; John Weidman, Librettist.

According to the jury: “Out of an extraordinary group of plays that brilliantly illuminate aspects of American history, the committee voted unanimously to award the Edward M. Kennedy prize to Hamilton. The committee felt that the spirit of the award is exemplified in this play. It enlists theater’s power to explore the past of the United States, participating meaningfully in the great issues of our day and grounded in the historical understanding that is essential to the functioning of a democracy. Technically so proficient, historically so sound, artistically so groundbreaking, Hamilton is both inspired by and celebrates the evolving history of the United States, of hip-hop, and of the musical theater.”

The panel of jurors is selected each year from a pool of playwrights, musical theater writers, lyricists, composers, 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 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 Kennedy Prize Board of Governors includes Mandy Hackett, Associate Artistic Director, The Public Theater; 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; Amanda Smith, Author.

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Lin-Manuel Miranda is an award-winning composer, lyricist, and performer, as well as a 2015 MacArthur Foundation Award recipient. His current musical, Hamilton - with book, music and lyrics by Mr. Miranda, in addition to him playing the title role - opened on Broadway in 2015 following a sold-out run at New York’s Public Theater. Off-Broadway, Hamilton received a record-breaking 10 Lortel Awards, as well as 3 Outer Critic Circle Awards, 8 Drama Desk Awards, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best New Musical, and an OBIE for Best New American Play. Mr. Miranda’s first Broadway musical, In the Heights, received four 2008 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, with Mr. Miranda receiving a Tony Award for Best Score as well as an nomination for Best Leading Actor in a Musical. In the Heights also received a Grammy Award for its Original Broadway Cast Album and was a 2009 Pulitzer Prize Finalist in Drama. Mr. Miranda is the co-composer and co-lyricist of the Tony-nominated Bring it On: The Musical. He contributed Spanish translations for the 2009 Broadway revival of West Side Story. Mr. Miranda is a co-founder/member of the hip-hop improv group Freestyle Love Supreme. In 2014, Mr. Miranda received an Emmy Award with Tom Kitt for their song, “Bigger” from the 67th Annual Tony Awards telecast. Additional television and film appearances include “House,” “Modern Family,” “Sesame Street,” The Odd Life of Timothy Green and 200 Cartas. Mr. Miranda is the recipient of the ASCAP Foundation's Richard Rodgers New Horizons Award and the National Arts Club Medal of Honor. He serves as a Council Member of The Dramatists Guild, Board Member of Young Playwrights Inc., and as an appointee to New York City’s Theater Subdistrict Council. A graduate of Wesleyan University, he currently lives in New York City with his wife, son and dog.

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