UPDATE with more information and interview with Nottage.
Lynn Nottage won her second Pulitzer Prize for Drama today, winning the award for Sweat, a drama set in a Pennsylvania factory town ravaged by changing economics and the social forces that culminated with the November election of Donald Trump. The play, staged by Kate Whoriskey, opened earlier this month on Broadway.
“Sharp and threatening as a box cutter blade, Lynn Nottage’s drama Sweat opened last fall at the Public Theater shortly before the election, an unnervingly prescient reality check even before Donald Trump’s victory,” I wrote in the review for Deadline. “‘No play in recent memory has shed more light on the crises and tribulations of America’s great retrenched working middle class,’ I wrote then, and that remains true these five tumultuous months later.”
In 2009, Nottage won the prize for her play Ruined, about the enforced sexual slavery of women during the civil war in the Republic of Congo.
“I’m excited that I can bring the conversation which is necessary to the main stage,” Notttage told Deadline this afternoon in a telephone interview after the announcement. “The economic devastation affecting the culture as a whole and raising awareness for some folks who were reluctant to engage in this conversation.”
Asked about the response she’s seen from audiences, Nottage said, “From my point of view, the audience reaction has been tremendous. The curtain comes down and they’re hit for a moment, which is as I wanted it to be – a dialogue starter that then people could conjure with. Reading is a bedrock of our culture being destroyed.”
Sweat marks the second Pulitzer for a playwright committed to art as a vehicle for social awareness. “I hold onto Werner Herzog’s notion that the job of the artist is to keep your eyes open when everyone else’s are shut. sometimes what you see is beautiful and sometimes it’s ugly, and the artist shouldn’t be afraid to hold that mirror.”
The Pulitzer Prize for criticism was awarded for the second year in a row to a critic from The New Yorker magazine. The recipient is drama critic Hilton Als. Last year, the criticism award went to television critic Emily Nussbaum. The 2016 prizes marked the first time the awards, which were established to honor daily newspaper print journalism, were opened up to magazine journalists.
Mike Pride, administrator of the Pulitzers, began the announcements this afternoon from Columbia University with an Oscars joke, ad libbing, “Just making sure I have the right envelope.”
The Pulitzers are the most coveted awards in print and, more recently, online journalism and among the most coveted in the arts; this year the cash value of the prizes was raised to $15,000 from $10,000. The top journalism award, the Gold Medal for Public Service, was awarded to the New York Daily News and Pro Publica, an independent investigative group that works with established papers, for a series on the NYPD’s use of a decades-old law to force people from their homes and businesses over alleged illegal activity.