The 2021 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize has been awarded to U.S. playwright Erika Dickerson-Despenza for her play about the Flint, Michigan water crisis, cullad wattah.
Awarded annually since 1977, The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize is the largest and oldest international prize honoring Women+ playwrights. On April 7, a livestream of the award ceremony honored Dickerson-Despenza and the other 9 Finalists. Award-winning star of stage and screen, and one of this year’s Blackburn Prize Judges, Paapa Essiedu, announced the winning play, which comes with an award of $25,000 and a signed and numbered print by artist Willem de Kooning.
The Judges of the 2021 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize also awarded two Special Commendations to finalists, a rare move which speaks to the strength of this year’s field of writers. Kimber Lee’s The Water Palace and Ife Olujobi’s Jordans each were awarded the $10,000 Special Commendation.
The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, co-founded by Susan’s sister, Emilie Kilgore, and Susan’s husband, William Blackburn, honors an outstanding new English-language play by a woman each year. It is the first major playwriting prize for women. Since the Prize’s founding in 1978, over 470 plays have been honored as Finalists. Many have gone on to receive other top honors, including Olivier, Lilly, Evening Standard and Tony Awards for Best Play. Ten Susan Smith Blackburn Finalist plays have subsequently won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. The Prize has also fostered an interchange of plays between the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and other English-speaking countries.
Past winners of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize include Lynn Nottage’s Sweat, Annie Baker’s The Flick, Caryl Churchill’s Fen, Marsha Norman’s ‘night,Mother, Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive, Nell Dunn’s Steaming, Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles, Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Fairview, Chloe Moss’s This Wide Night, Sarah Ruhl’s The Clean House, Judith Thompson’s Palace of the End, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s Behzti (Dishonour), Julia Cho’s The Language Archive, Jennifer Haley’s The Nether, Charlotte Jones’ Humble Boy, Naomi Wallace’s One Flea Spare, and Moira Buffini’s Silence.