Playwright Rajiv Joseph Wins Whiting Writers' Award

By Kenneth Jones
October 29, 2009

Rajiv Joseph, the playwright of Animals Out of Paper, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo and Gruesome Playground Injuries, has won the 2009 Whiting Writers' Award in the playwriting category.

The recipients in all categories were announced on Oct. 28. The 2009 recipients were announced at a ceremony at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City.

The Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation presents the awards. There were ten recipients of the 2009 Whiting Writers' Awards. The awards, which are $50,000 each, totaling $500,000, have been given annually since 1985 to writers "of exceptional talent and promise in early career."

Joseph is the author of Animals Out of Paper, produced by the Second Stage Theatre and published by Dramatists Play Service; Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, produced at the Center Theatre Group's Kirk Douglas Theater in Los Angeles and named Outstanding New American Play by the National Endowment for the Arts; and Gruesome Playground Injuries, currently playing at the Alley Theatre in Houston. He has received a Paula Vogel Award from the Vineyard Theatre and has been a Kesselring, a Lark Playwriting, and a Dramatists Guild fellow. Joseph received his BA from Miami University and his MFA from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. He is a founding member of the Fire Department Theater Company and lecturer in NYU's Expository Writing Program. He served for three years in the Peace Corps in Senegal. He lives in Brooklyn.


The program marks its 25th anniversary this year. It has awarded more than $6 million to 250 poets, fiction and nonfiction writers, and playwrights. Among the past recipients who have gone on to achieve acclaim and prominence in their field are Denis Johnson, Mona Simpson, Tony Kushner, Jorie Graham, Gretel Ehrlich, Michael Cunningham, Alice McDermott, William T. Vollman, Ian Frazier, David Foster Wallace, Suzan-Lori Parks, Mark Doty, Jeffrey Eugenides, C.D. Wright, and Colson Whitehead.


Whiting Writers' Awards candidates are proposed by about a hundred anonymous nominators from across the country whose experience and vocations give them knowledge about individuals of extraordinary talent. Winners are chosen by a small anonymous selection committee of recognized writers, literary scholars, and editors, appointed annually by the Foundation. At four meetings over the course of the year, the selectors discuss the candidates' work and gradually winnow the list. They then recommend up to ten writers for awards to the Foundation's Trustees. The Foundation accepts nominations only from the designated nominators.

The Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation was established in 1963 by Flora E. Whiting. In 1972, her unrestricted bequest of over $10 million enabled the Foundation to establish the Whiting Fellowships in the Humanities for doctoral candidates in their dissertation year. In the years since, the Foundation has annually awarded grants to Bryn Mawr, University of Chicago, Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale to fund these Fellowships, the recipients of which are selected by each institution. The Foundation created the Whiting Writers' Awards in 1985 under the direction of Gerald Freund, who organized and led the program until his death in 1997.