Columbia University Announces Winner of 2014 Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History

Columbia University and Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith are pleased to announce that Dominique Morisseau’s "Detroit ‘67" is the 2014 winner of the Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History.

February 24, 2014

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 Dominique Morisseau's 'Detroit '67,' an exceptional work that exemplifies the mission of the prize in its exploration of the rich history of our country through the power of theater," said Ambassador Smith. "Ted was a great student of American history and enjoyed theater immensely, and I know he would salute this deserving young artist's success and her illumination of important historical issues that affect our country."

"Detroit ’67" received its world premiere at The Public Theater in New York, NY on March 12, 2013 and was presented in association with the Classical Theater of Harlem and the National Black Theater. Prior to that, it was developed with the assistance of The Public Theater as well as The Lark Play Development Center, New York City.

Ms. Morisseau 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 theater artist, teacher or class studying the work and its historical context.

“Columbia University Libraries is honored to administer the Kennedy Prize and is thrilled to be able to recognize this outstanding contribution to American theater,” said James Neal, Columbia’s vice president for information services and University Librarian. “The educational website that our Center for New Media Teaching and Learning builds for the winning play will be a powerful tool for teachers and students at schools and colleges all over the world.”

Plays and musicals which were first professionally produced in 2012 or 2013 were eligible for this year’s award. The other finalists, announced on January 9, were Appropriate by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Fun Home by Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori, Party People by UNIVERSES, and the road weeps, the well runs dry by Marcus Gardley.

The voting jury for the 2014 Kennedy Prize included Carol Becker, Dean of Columbia University School of the Arts; Susan Birkenhead, Lyricist; J. Michael Friedman, Composer, Lyricist; Rinne Groff, Playwright, Performer; Stephen Adly Guirgis, Playwright, Screenwriter, Director, Actor; Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia; Young Jean Lee, Playwright, Director; James Shapiro, Larry Miller Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia; and Diana Son, Playwright.

According to the jury: “[We have] unanimously chosen to award the Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History to Detroit '67 by Dominique Morisseau. The first in a three-play cycle about her hometown, Detroit, the play explores an explosive and decisive moment in a great American city. The jury was completely drawn into the world of 'Detroit '67,' whose compelling characters struggle with racial tension and economic instability. The jury also felt strongly that the play powerfully exemplifies the goals of the Kennedy Prize. 'Detroit '67' is a work grounded in historical understanding that also comments meaningfully on the pressing issues of our day.”

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 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.

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