That was the phrase out of people's mouths when they were reminded that the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Drama was to be announced April 12. It seemed almost inevitable that Margaret Edson's drama would win the prize -- and indeed, it has.
Wit, now playing at the Union Square Theatre, tells of a strict college poetry professor brought low -- to humility and humanity -- by her bout with ovarian cancer. On April 6, Wit won the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Play. Edson, an elementary school teacher, has said she's unlikely to write another play after this one.
A Special Citation was given to Duke Ellington, whose legit credits included composing the music for the Broadway show Pousse-Cafe (1966) and whose songs were memorialized in the 1981 hit tuner, Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies.
Jurors for the prize were chairman Ben Brantley (NY Times), Betty Corwin (NY Public Library for the Performing Arts), Robert Hurwitt (theatre critic for San Francisco Examiner), Hedy Weiss (theatre & dance critic Chicago Sun Times), Linda Winer (Newsday). *
A woman of few but well-selected words, both in her plays and in life, Edson told Playbill On-Line (April 12) winning the Pulitzer Prize, "Feels delightful." Nevertheless, all the attention over Wit hasn't affected her day-to-day existence the way we might imagine. "The talk of New York isn't as relevant outside New York as inside," she said. "Once the school day begins, nothing from the outside has any impact at all." Edson also noted that a classroom of five-year-olds is unlikely to treat her like a literary superstar.
Asked whether the acclaim for Wit would change her mind about not writing any more plays, Edson told PBOL, "I have one other play, Satisfied, which nobody likes. I'm changing the title to `Dissatisfied,' and I don't plan to work on it again... If Wit is successful, it's because this is the one play I really wanted to write. I'm not interested in establishing a career as a playwright. If there's something else I really want to say, then I'll write another."
Edson added that no particular play -- or work of art, for that matter -- directly influenced her decision to write Wit. She wrote it as a theatrical piece because, "No other format occurred to me. I wasn't interested in novels or stories or essays."
She reiterated her oft-told claim that her day job is far more fulfilling than any ambition toward fame and recognition. "The thing about teaching elementary school.. it's simply the way you go through the day. No external event matters. It's only yourself going through the day." Asked why she chose to teach such young pupils rather than sharing her obvious erudition with grad students, Edson replied, "This is a lot more fun. Teaching in graduate school, you don't get to sing, dance or laugh. I do that every day."
Not surprisingly, when asked to define the most important theme of Wit, Edson replies in one sentence: "The play is about grace."
Until the April 12 announcement, sources were saying two other shows had a shot this year: Side Man, Warren Leight's drama of a jazz musician's obliviousness to everything else besides his music; and Running Man, a jazz-music-poetry piece by Diedre Murray and Cornelius Eady that played at HERE in February. (If the latter sounds like a stretch, remember that poet Eady already has one Pulitzer nomination to his credit for his verse.) Those two shows were, indeed, named as finalists for the Prize, April 12.
Other well-received works that had an outside chance included Craig Lucas' The Dying Gaul, Diana Son's Stop Kiss and the Alfred Uhry-Jason Robert Brown musical, Parade.
Last year's Pulitzer winner for Drama was Paula Vogel's How I Learned To Drive, the story of a young woman's relationship with an uncle who sexually abuses her.
The Pulitzer Prize has been offered annually since 1917 for a "distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life."
Here is a complete list of plays that have won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama:
998-99: "Wit" by Margaret Edson
1997-98: "How I Learned To Drive" by Paula Vogel
1996-97: No award
1995-96: "Rent" by Jonathan Larson
1994-95: "The Young Man From Atlanta" by Horton Foote
1993-94: "Three Tall Women" by Edward Albee
1992-93: "Angels in America: Millennium Approaches," by Tony Kushner
1991-92: "The Kentucky Cycle," by Robert Schenkkan
1990-91: "Lost in Yonkers," by Neil Simon
1989-90: "The Piano Lesson," by August Wilson
1988-89: "The Heidi Chronicles," by Wendy Wasserstein
1987-88: "Driving Miss Daisy," by Alfred Uhry
1986-87: "Fences," by August Wilson
1985-86: No award
1984-85: "Sunday in the Park With George," by James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim
1983-84: "Glengarry Glen Ross," by David Mamet
1982-83: "'night, Mother," by Marsha Norman
1981-82: "A Soldier's Play," by Charles Fuller
1980-81: "Crimes of the Heart," by Beth Henley
1979-80: "Talley's Folly," by Lanford Wilson
1978-79: "Buried Child," by Sam Shepard
1977-78: "The Gin Game," by D.L. Coburn
1976-77: "The Shadow Box," by Michael Cristofer
1975-76: "A Chorus Line," by Michael Bennett, James Kirkwood, Nicholas Dante, Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban
1974-75: "Seascape," by Edward Albee
1973-74: No award
1972-73: "That Championship Season," by Jason Miller
1971-72: No award
1970-71: "The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds," by Paul Zindel
1969-70: "No Place To Be Somebody," by Charles Gordone
1968-69: "The Great White Hope," by Howard Sackler
1967-68: No award
1966-67: "A Delicate Balance," by Edward Albee
1965-66: No award
1964-65: "The Subject Was Roses," by Frank D. Gilroy
1963-64: No award
1962-63: No award
1961-62: "How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," by Abe Burrows, Willie Gilbert, Jack Weinstock and Frank Loesser
1960-61: "All the Way Home," by Tad Mosel
1959-60: "Fiorello!," by Jerome Weidman, George Abbott, Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock
1958-59: "J.B.," by Archibald MacLeish
1957-58: "Look Homeward," Angel, by Ketti Frings
1956-57: "Long Day's Journey Into Night," by Eugene O'Neill
1955-56: "The Diary of Anne Frank," by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett
1954-55: "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," by Tennessee Williams
1953-54: "The Teahouse of the August Moon," by John Patrick
1952-53: "Picnic," by William Inge
1951-52: "The Shrike," by Joseph Kramm
1950-51: No award
1949-50: "South Pacific," by Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan
1948-49: "Death of a Salesman," by Arthur Miller
1947-48: "A Streetcar Named Desire," by Tennessee Williams
1946-47: No award
1945-46: "State of the Union," by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse
1944-45: "Harvey," by Mary Chase
1943-44: No award
1942-43: "The Skin of Our Teeth," by Thornton Wilder
1941-42: No award
1940-41: "There Shall Be No Night," by Robert E. Sherwood
1939-40: "The Time of Your Life," by William Saroyan
1938-39: "Abe Lincoln in Illinois," by Robert E. Sherwood
1937-38: "Our Town," by Thornton Wilder
1936-37: "You Can't Take It With You," by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman
1935-36: "Idiot's Delight," by Robert E. Sherwood
1934-35: "The Old Maid," by Zoe Akins
1933-34: "Men in White," by Sidney Kingsley
1932-33: "Both Your Houses," by Maxwell Anderson
1931-32: "Of Thee I Sing," by George S. Kaufman, Morrie Ryskind, Ira and George Gershwin
1930-31: "Alison's House," by Susan Glaspell
1929-30: "The Green Pastures," by Marc Connelly
1928-29: "Street Scene," by Elmer Rice
1927-28: "Strange Interlude," by Eugene O'Neill
1926-27: "In Abraham's Bosom," by Paul Green
1925-26: "Craig's Wife," by George Kelly
1924-25: "They Knew What They Wanted," by Sidney Howard
1923-24: "Hell-Bent fer Heaven," by Hatcher Hughes
1922-23: "Icebound," by Owen Davis
1921-22: "Anna Christie," by Eugene O'Neill
1920-21: "Miss Lulu Bett," by Zona Gale
1919-20: "Beyond the Horizon," by Eugene O'Neill
1918-19: No award
1917-18: "Why Marry?," by Jesse Lynch Williams
1916-17: No award
-- By David Lefkowitz and Sean McGrath