Erika Dickerson-Despenza has won the 2021 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for her play cullud wattah.
Dickerson-Despenza was given the prize by actor Paapa Essiedu in a virtual ceremony presented by award-winning playwright Marsha Norman. Essiedu announced the winning play, which comes with an award of $25,000 and a signed and numbered print by artist Willem de Kooning.
Two special commendations were given out on the night to Kimber Lee's The Water Palace and Ife Olujobi's Jordans, with each writer awarded $10,000.
This year the judges were director Natalie Abrahami, Essiedu, designer Bunny Christie, director Lileana Blain-Cruz, actor Jason Butler Harner and director Seema Sueko.
The ten shortlisted plays were:
Glace Chase (Aus/US) – Triple X
Erika Dickerson-Despenza (US) – cullud wattah
Miranda Rose Hall (US) – A Play for the Living in the Time of Extinction
Dawn King (UK) – The Trials
Kimber Lee (US) – The Water Palace
Janice Okoh (UK) – The Gift
Ife Olujobi (US) – Jordans
Frances Poet (UK) – Maggie May
Jiehae Park (US) – The Aves
Beth Steel (UK) – The House of Shades
Previous prize winners have included Lynn Nottage's Sweat, Annie Baker's The Flick and Caryl Churchill's Fen.
Afro-surrealist play cullud wattah, which follows three generations of Black women living through the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, was originally set to open at the Public Theater in New York in 2020, but was postponed indefinitely by the pandemic.