Liverpudlian playwright Lizzie Nunnery has missed out on being awarded the 2010 international Susan Smith Blackburn Prize this year.

The top prize was awarded to American Julia Cho for her play The Language Archive, who was given $20,000 and also received a signed and numbered print by artist Willem de Kooning, created especially for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. Tony-award winning director Doug Hughes presented her with the prize at the private ceremony held at The Century Association in New York on Wednesday (3 March).

Cho’s play about a male linguist discovering that words may not be enough to save his crumbling marriage is to have its world premiere at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, California later in the month. New York's Roundabout Theatre Company has commissioned her play, while South Coast Rep is producing it.

Nunnery, who is from Maghull, was competing with her new play The Swallowing Dark. She had been nominated for the prize by the Everyman & Playhouse theatres and developed the play while she was a Pearson playwright in residence at the Everyman during Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture in 2008. The Swallowing Dark received a rehearsed reading during the Everyword new writing festival last year.

Although she did not win the first prize, Nunnery was delighted to have been amongst the finalists, for which she received $1,000. She said: “It’s really not a case of commiserations. I knew in advance I hadn't won and as the play's still in development I'm pretty chuffed on the whole.”

Established in 1978, the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize is given annually to recognise women from around the world who have written works of outstanding quality for the English-speaking theatre.

Last year, Chloë Moss, also from Liverpool, was awarded the top prize in London, which was presented to her by Hollywood actress Sigourney Weaver, for her critically acclaimed play This Wide Night. She is currently under commission to the Everyman & Playhouse.

The other finalists and plays competing for this year’s prize, picked from ninety plays nominated, included:

The Aliens by Annie Baker (USA)

This by Melissa James Gibson (USA)

It Felt Empty When the Heart Went at First But It Is Alright Now by Lucy Kirkwood (east London, UK)

The Shipment by Young Jean Lee (USA)

The Nature of Love by Rebecca Lenkiewicz (Plymouth, UK)

East of Berlin by Hannah Moscovitch (Canada)

Enron by Lucy Prebble (Surrey, UK)

Strandline by Abbie Spallen (Ireland)

As well as director Hughes, the international panel of six judges for the 32nd Susan Smith Blackburn Prize included celebrated American stage and film actress Hope Davis, Mark Lawson, BBC Radio host and critic, Todd London, artistic director of New Dramatists (New York), British stage director Indhu Rubasingham and renowned star of British theatre, Fiona Shaw.

The prize reflects the values and interests of Susan Smith Blackburn, the noted American actress and writer who lived in London during the last 15 years of her life. She tragically died in 1977 of breast cancer, at the age of 42, and her sister, Emilie Kilgore, and husband, William Blackburn, established the award in her honour.