The EMK Prize will be given annually through the Columbia University Libraries to a new play or musical of merit that, in the words of the Prize's mission statement, "…enlists theatre's power to explore the past of the United States, to participate meaningfully in the great issues of our day through the public conversation, grounded in historical understanding, that is essential to the functioning of a democracy."
The first recipient of the EMK Prize will be announced on Senator Kennedy's birthday, Feb. 22, 2013.
"My brother loved the arts – museums, books, the performing arts," said Smith in a statement. "Music was perhaps dearest to him, but he and I shared an enjoyment of theatre — especially, for Teddy, musical theatre. He admired the discipline and skill that theatre demanded of actors, directors and writers. He was intrigued by the theatre's creation of worlds, based on the human imagination, either for purposes of escaping what's difficult in life or for purposes of confronting difficult truths. He was an insatiable student of American history, and, of course, he devoted his life to public service. My brothers, sisters and I were raised to appreciate how much a society's culture contributes to the happiness of its citizens and to the health of its civic institutions. I decided to establish a prize for dramatic writing that speaks to this connection between art and civic life as a way of honoring my brother, and also as a way of acknowledging my family's commitment and indebtedness to the arts.
"I also must acknowledge Tony Kushner who, from the beginning, has shown tremendous understanding and enthusiasm for this endeavor to honor my brother. This could never have happened without him and I am forever grateful for his invaluable insights and unwavering support."
In planning the Prize, Smith enlisted a number of theatre professionals, including Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Kushner, who will serve on the EMK Prize Board. Kushner added, "Jean Kennedy Smith is a heroic and amazing woman, curious about life and full of ideas and energy. I was moved and delighted by her intention to link playwriting and the public power of theatre with her brother's and her family's historical and spirited commitment to the work of building democracy. This seemed to me a chance to create not just another prize — though playwrights need financial support! — but an incentive, a challenge for playwrights and a validation of theater as a particularly social and civic art form."
Plays and musicals that have received their first professional productions in 2012 will be eligible for the Prize. The recipient will be determined by a panel of judges from a list of five works selected by a national network of nominators. The judges' panel will consist of three playwrights, two musical theatre writers (book writer, lyricist or composer), two scholars of literature, American history or political science and the president of Columbia University.
James Neal, vice president of Information Services and University librarian at Columbia, will serve as the administrator for the new Kennedy Prize.
The EMK Prize consists of two parts. The author of the winning work will receive a bursary award of $100,000. In addition, The Columbia University Libraries' Center for New Media Learning and Teaching, working with the Prize recipient, will create a website featuring study and teaching guides, including extensive historical research and scholarly discussion and interpretation of the Prize-winning play or musical. This website will be available to any theatre artist and any teacher or class studying the work.
The size of the bursary component makes the EMK Prize among the largest prizes given for dramatic writing.