The 2021 Yale Drama Series Prize has been awarded to Rachel Lynett for her play “Apologies to Lorraine Hansberry (You Too August Wilson).” The work was chosen from several entries by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel.
Set in the fictional world of a post-second Civil War, the play showcases an all-Black state called Bronx Bay that is established in order to protect “Blackness.” As Jules’ new partner, Yael, moves into town, community members argue over if Yael, who is Dominican, can stay. Questions of safety and protection surround both Jules and Yael as the utopia of Bronx Bay debates where the line is when it comes to defining who is Black and who gets left out in the process.
The annual competition is open to emerging playwrights who submit original, unpublished, full-length English language plays. After taking a hiatus last year, the Yale Drama Series Prize is celebrating its 14th year as a preeminent playwriting award in cooperation with Yale University Press. It is solely sponsored by the David Charles Horn Foundation. In addition to being published by Yale University Press, the award comes with a prize of $10,000. While the winning play is typically read on stage, this year’s reading will take place virtually on a date to be announced.
Vogel selected three runner-ups this year, the most finalists ever chosen by a judge. The runner-ups include 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 ten plays could have been chosen as the recipient of the Yale Drama Series Prize,” Vogel said. “The winning play, Apologies to Lorraine Hansberry (You Too August Wilson) by Rachel Lynett, 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 at the start. She imagines a second Civil War that is followed by a treaty that establishes four States in different parts of the country that are totally segregated and restricted to a conformist population. Rachel creates a Black community called Bronx Bay. Keeping it pure creates difficulties, conflicts and expulsion. Rachel is a brilliant writer who isn’t shy or quiet about her deep-seeded fears, disappointments and questioning hope. My only disappointment was that the play ended. I hope one day her imagination will create the other three states. Thank you, Rachel, for joining our team of exceptional playwrights that have won the Yale Drama Series competition.”
Lynett said, “When I wrote ‘Apologies to Lorraine Hansberry (You Too August Wilson),’ I wanted to break as many ‘rules’ as I could. As someone who is multiracial and multicultural, I often feel by existing, and I am sometimes breaking the rules and 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. 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. 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.”