The 2023 Pulitzer Prizes were announced May 8, including the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, honoring an exceptional American play staged in the last year. Taking the theatrical honor was Sanaz Toossi for her work English, which world premiere production Off-Broadway at Atlantic Theater Company last year, co-produced with Roundabout Theatre Company.
Named as finalists were Aleshea Harris' On Sugarland and Lloyd Suh's The Far Country.
Toossi's work centers on a group of adults in Iran preparing for the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) in an "English Only" classroom. The play earned Toossi Williamstown Theatre Festival's 2020 L. Arnold Weissberger New Play Award, which was accompanied by a $20,000 prize and an option for publication through Concord Theatricals' Samuel French imprint. The work's world premiere played Atlantic's Linda Gross Theater February 5 through March 13, 2022, with Knud Adams directing. Read reviews for the Off-Broadway bow here.
On Sugarland follows young Sadie as she calls upon her matriarchal ancestors to help her in her search for the truth about her mother, connecting with them on the historied land that lays beneath a modern-day cul-de-sac. Whitney White directed the work's world premiere Off-Broadway at New York Theatre Workshop last year, with If Beale Street Could Talk star KiKi Layne starring as Sadie.
Suh's The Far Country also made its world premiere Off-Broadway via Atlantic Theater Company, playing November 17, 2022-January 1, 2023. Set in the wake of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, the play follows one family's journey from rural Taishan to California at a time when Chinese laborers have been banned from immigrating to the United States for 10 years. Eric Ting directed.
The Pulitzer Prize for Drama most frequently is awarded to an American play, though 2019 winner A Strange Loop is one of 10 musicals to take the honor since it was first awarded in 1917. Last year's winner was James Ijames' Fat Ham, currently making its Broadway debut and a 2023 Tony Award nominee for Best Play. Previous winners include Katori Hall's The Hot Wing King, Jackie Sibblies Drury's Fairview, Martyna Majok's Cost of Living (also a 2023 Tony Award nominee for Best Play), and Lynn Nottage's Sweat.
The Drama prize is decided by a jury comprising three critics, an academic, and a playwright who attend plays in New York and at regional theatres across the country. The production is allowed to factor into the judges' decision-making, though the award is bestowed on the work's playwright alone.