EXCLUSIVE: The Lilly Awards, named for Lillian Hellman and founded seven years ago to “celebrate women of distinction in American theater,” will honor Eclipsed playwright (and The Walking Dead star) Danai Gurira, never-out-of-work Steppenwolf actor Martha Plimpton, Ruined director Kate Whoriskey and National Asian American Theatre Company co-founder, artistic director and actor Mia Katigbak on May 23 at the Signature Theatre. More honorees will be announced shortly.

MarthaPlimptonThe awards were established in 2010 by writers Julia Jordan, Marsha Norman and Theresa Rebeck to address what is widely regarded as a vacuum in awards-season recognition of the contributions of women to Broadway and resident theater. Honorees are selected by a rotating group of some 100 theater professionals. The awards include the $25,000 Stacey Mindich Prize, which underwrites the production of a new work by a woman  playwright; and the Leah Ryan Prize, a cash grant to an emerging woman playwright and production of  a reading of the winning play in New York City.

Gurira, familiar to TV audiences as Michonne on the AMC horrorseries, has a particularly high-profile this season. Her war drama Eclipsed is currently running on Broadway, with Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o starring; both are expected to figure in next week’s Tony Award nominations. A second play, Familiar, just ended an acclaimed run at off-Broadway’s Playwrights Horizons. Plimpton, seen regularly on CBS’ The Good Wife, is a veteran of both the Chicago ensemble and Broadway and off-Broadway. Katigbak recently starred in an extraordinary revival by NAATCO of Clifford Odets’ Awake and Sing! at the Public Theater.

Previous Lilly honorees include Mary Rodgers, Dominique Morisseau, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Jeanine Tesori, Liesl Tommy, Kelli O’Hara, Pam MacKinnon, Leigh Silverman, Anne Kauffman, Sarah Ruhl, Kristin Chenoweth, Annie Baker, Susan Stroman, Lynn Ahrens, Tina Fallon, Amy Herzog, Nina Arianda, Diane Paulus, Katori Hall, Tina Howe, Estelle Parsons, Lynne Meadow, Ntozake Shange, Jessica Hecht and Lois Smith.