Play that explores racism after ‘second Civil War’ wins Yale Drama Prize

The 2021 Yale Drama Series Prize, one of the theater world’s most prestigious awards for playwrights, has been awarded to Rachel Lynett for her play “Apologies to Lorraine Hansberry (You Too August Wilson).” The award recipient was chosen by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel.

Rachel Lynett
Playwright Rachel Lynett

Apologies to Lorraine Hansberry (You Too August Wilson)” is set in the fictional world of a post-second Civil War. Bronx Bay, an all-Black state (and neighborhood) is established in order to protect “Blackness.” As Jules’ new partner, Yael, moves into town, community members argue whether Yael, who is Dominican, can stay. Questions of safety and protection surround both Jules and Yael as the utopia of Bronx Bay confronts where the line is when it comes to defining who is Black and who gets left out in the process.

Lynett’s play was chosen from over 2,050 submissions from 60 countries.

Now celebrating its 14th year, the Yale Drama Series Prize is in cooperation with Yale University Press and is sponsored by the David Charles Horn Foundation. It is given annually for a play by an emerging playwright, selected by a judging panel of one — a distinguished playwright of our time. The winner receives the David Charles Horn Prize of $10,000, as well as publication of the winning play by Yale University Press and a staged reading. Due to the COVID pandemic, this year’s reading will take place virtually on a date to be announced.

For the competition, playwrights are invited to submit original, unpublished, full-length, English language plays. All entries are read blindly.

In addition to the winner, Vogel selected three runners-up — the most finalists ever chosen by a judge — including Timothy X Atack for “Babel’s Cupid,” Molly Bicks for “Miss Atomic Power,” and Francisco Mendoza for “Machine Learning.”

This year’s submissions were incredibly gifted and aesthetically diverse, and in truth, at least 10 plays could have been chosen as the recipient of the Yale Drama Series Prize,” said Vogel. “The winning play, ‘Apologies to Lorraine Hansberry (You Too August Wilson)’ … is a taut examination of the impact of racism in a future African American state after the next Civil War in America. How do the community members of a fictional ‘Bronx Bay’ protect Blackness? Who gets to define Blackness in a gated Black community? And ultimately, in policing Blackness, what families and relationships are torn asunder in this new world? With a metatheatrical playfulness and a direct inclusion of actors and audience alike, Rachel Lynette’s play exposes the many layers to the notion of race in order to awaken us.”

Francine Horn, president of the David Charles Horn Foundation, said, “From the first page of Rachel’s amazing play you recognize her exceptional talent for engaging her audience… Rachel is a brilliant writer who isn’t shy or quiet about her deep-seated fears, disappointments and questioning hope. My only disappointment was that the play ended.”

Lynett is a playwright, producer, and teaching artist. She is also a visiting assistant professor at Alfred University, the artistic director of Rachel Lynett Theatre Company, and the executive director for Page by Page.

In writing “Apologies to Lorraine Hansberry,” Lynett said she wanted to break as many “rules” as she could. As someone who is multiracial and multicultural, she said that she often feels that she is breaking rules by simply existing. She wanted to write a play that reflected that.

I have also spent a lot of time thinking about how to get catharsis in plays about race and how I could find a way to give the actors of color on stage a way to reclaim that,” she said. “It has been incredibly humbling to see that this play resonates with others when it feels like an argument within myself.

Every year, I look to see who has won the Yale Drama Series Prize and immediately add those plays to my reading list as a guide to where I think conversations about theatre and playwriting are headed,” she added. “It feels incredibly surreal to know this year my name is added to the list of so many artists who I've admired and respected for years.”

Her plays “Last Night” and “He Did It” made the 2020 Kilroy’s List of new works by women, trans, and nonbinary playwrights.

Previous winners of the Yale Drama Series Prize include John Austin Connolly, Neil Wechsler, Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, Virginia Grise, Clarence Coo, Jen Silverman, Janine Nabers, Barbara Seyda, Emily Schwend, Jacqueline Goldfinger, Leah Nanako Winkler, and Liliana Padilla.

The David Charles Horn Foundation, which provides all funding for the Yale Drama Series, was established in 2003 by Francine Horn, David's wife and partner in the international fashion publication service Here & There. David’s dream of having his own writing published was never realized. The foundation seeks to honor his aspirations by offering other writers the opportunity of publication, particularly, emerging playwrights.

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