Comedic take on the quest for thinness wins Yale Drama Series Prize

“Jar of Fat,” this year’s prize-winning play by Seayoung Yim, is a darkly comedic Korean American fairytale that explores fatphobia and attractiveness.
Seayoung Yim

Seayoung Yim

Jar of Fat,” an absurdist comedy by Seayoung Yim about two Korean-American sisters who are deemed too fat to fit into the family plot and their parents who will spare no effort to get them tinier, has been chosen winner of the 2022 Yale Drama Series Prize.

As the winner, Yim receives the David Charles Horn Prize of $10,000 as well as publication of her play by Yale University Press and a staged reading.

In a historic first, the play was chosen by a panel of judges — all former winners of the Yale Drama Series Prize themselves — rather than by a single judge, who is an acclaimed playwright, as has been the tradition. The judges were Neil Wechsler, who won the prize in 2008, Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig (2009), Virginia Grise (2010), Jacqueline Goldfinger (2017), Leah Nanako Winkler (2018), and Rachel Lynett (2021). Each of them read more than 250 plays; over 1,500 plays from 56 countries were submitted for consideration.

Jar of Fat” is set in a fantastical fairytale world and explores concepts of desire, ugliness, and beauty. The sisters share a deep bond, but it is one that is at stake under the pressure of their community and fretful parents over their size.

‘Jar of Fat’ is a darkly comedic Korean-American fairy tale about the allure and danger entangled within the quest for beauty and thinness,” Yim said. “I offer this play as a struck match to burn some of the accumulated rage at what fatphobia steals from us every day: grace, space, possibility, and breath.”

She added: “As a Korean-American, it was important to have this conversation about fatphobia and attractiveness in a culturally specific context to explore ways these issues present themselves differently from the mainstream Western norms. It is my long-term hope that we collectively dream about and build the capacity to honor all bodies in their ever-changing forms.”

Now in its 15th year, the Yale Drama Series Prize is awarded annually in cooperation with Yale University Press and is solely sponsored by the David Charles Horn Foundation. The series is an international open submission competition for emerging playwrights, who are invited to submit original, unpublished, full-length, English-language plays for consideration. All entries are read blindly.

‘Jar of Fat’ immediately grabbed my attention from its first page,” said Lynett. “The voice of the playwright was incredibly strong and especially fun. Reading the play felt like a conversation like the playwright was daring me to play along. I’m always asking myself ‘What have I never seen before? What voices are missing from theater? This play felt radical but also simply so honest it couldn’t be ignored.”

Francine Horn, president of the David Charles Horn Foundation, said, “Writers are encouraged to put to paper what is personal and real for them —  what they deeply feel. And in the last few years, this is where we’ve found ourselves — overwhelming burdens on the female members of the family, culture clash, conflicting lifestyles bumping against established norms, grief, loss, and disfunction of families. Our current winner, Seayoung  Yim, writes brilliantly about this struggle between perceived acceptance, sacrifice, love, and clashing with deeply rooted cultural rituals.

She has a magical sense to transform the narrative from horror to humor, from fantasy to reality.”

In another break with tradition, this year the Yale Drama Series announced a shortlist of finalists for the prize prior to announcing the winner. In addition to “Jar of Fat,” the eight plays on the shortlist are Jordan Ramirez Puckett’s “A Driving Beat”; Lilly Camp’s “All Eight”; Matthew Paul Olmos’ “a home what howls (or the house that was ravine)”; Candrice Jones’ “A Medusa Thread”; Libby Heily’s “Midnight Showing”; Aaron Coleman’s “Tell Me I’m Gorgeous at the End of the World”; and Iraisa Ann Reilly’s “The Jersey Devil Is a Papi Chulo.”

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