WINNING WOMEN: Pulitizer-Prize Winning Playwrights

March is Women’s History Month, so this is the perfect time to recognize the 15 women who have won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, including Frances Goodrich who wrote the first adaptation of Anne Frank's Diary-- The Diary of Anne Frank. Anne Frank herself is a notable female author, with her diary being one of the most famous memoirs in the world and considered one of the top 10 books of the 20th Century.

Zona Gale, for Miss Lulu Bett, 1921. Wisconsin native Zona Gale (1874-1938) was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama. A former newspaper reporter, Gale also published short stories and novels – in fact, she adapted Miss Lulu Bett from her novel of the same name. Gale actively lobbied for equal rights for women. Her writing explores women's frustration at their lack of opportunities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don't know a better preparation for life than a love of poetry and a good digestion.” 


Susan Glaspell, for Alison’s House, 1931. Another Midwesterner! This Iowa native (1876-1948) went to Drake, even though a university education supposedly made women unfit for marriage. Before and during college, she wrote for newspapers; one day after she graduated, the Des Moines Daily News hired her to cover the state legislature and murder cases as a full-time reporter. After covering the trial of a woman convicted of killing her abusive husband, Glaspell abruptly resigned at age 24 to write fiction. She moved to Greenwich Village, published successful novels and short stories, became a key figure in America’s first avant-garde artistic movement, befriended famous reformers and activists, and led a feminist debating group called Heterodoxy to crusade for women’s rights. Oh – and she also helped start a little theater company called the Provincetown Playhouse. And discovered Eugene O’Neill. And wrote 12 groundbreaking plays. Her first play, Trifles (1916), was based on the murder trial back in Des Moines that drove her out of journalism. An early feminist masterpiece, it is one of the most anthologized works in American theater history. Ironically, Alison’s House -- the play inspired by the life of poet Emily Dickinson that earned her the Pulitzer -- was perhaps her least successful drama. Premiered by Eva La Gallienne’s Civic Repertory Theater, it saw 25 performances and indifferent reviews. Glaspell shunned publicity and downplayed her achievements; her strong female protagonists fell out of favor until feminist critics revived interest in her work in the 1970s.

“We all go through the same things – it’s all just a different kind of the same thing.”


Zoe Akins, for The Old Maid, 1935. So clearly the Midwest was a hotbed of female creativity! Missouri-born pet, playwright, novelist and screenwriter Zoe Akins (1886-1958) started writing plays as a teenager at Hosmer Hall, a prep school in St. Louis (poet Sara Teasdale was her classmate). Akins wrote 40 plays in 30 years; 17 were produced on Broadway. Her first big hit, Declassée, starred Ethel Barrymore and ran for 257 performances in 1919-20. The Old Maid, adapted from the Edith Wharton novel, was her biggest success with 305 performances. None of her plays has ever been revived on Broadway. Hollywood adapted several in the 1920s, before Akins tried her own hand at screenwriting. In the 1930s she collaborated on four films with Dorothy Arzner – the sole woman director in Hollywood to make a successful move from silent to sound. One of their films was Christopher Strong (1933) starring a young lass named Katharine Hepburn – it was Kate’s second picture, and it earned her the first of her four Academy Awards as Best Actress. Akins wrote, adapted or contributed the story to 15 films. Trivia: Zoe Akins is the great aunt of actor Laurie Metcalf (Jackie Harris in TV’s Roseanne).

 “Forgetting is the cost of living cheerfully.”


Mary Coyle Chase, for Harvey, 1945. Chase hailed from Denver, putting an end to our Midwestern streak. This imaginative playwright became incredibly famous and wealthy by creating an invisible rabbit named Harvey that has happily hopped about in the minds of theater and film audiences (especially Jimmy Stewart fans) for generations. Chase also started her writing career as a tough-as-nails, hard-partying reporter at The Rocky Mountain News. Finding herself stuck in the society news section as punishment for a practical joke, Chase left the news business for her true love, theater. Her first plays failed to impress. Then she wrote an offbeat comedy about a drunk named Elwood P. Dowd and his perennial companion, a tall lanky rabbit that only he could see. Harvey was played by an actor in a rabbit suit in rehearsal; thankfully, that actor and the suit were cut before opening night. Harvey was a massive hit, running for 1,775 performances on Broadway. Translated into many languages, it played the world's stages. It even went to the front in WWII; a 1945 headline read ''Fabulous Rabbit Going to Foxholes.'' Jimmy Stewart famously starred in the first film and television versions.

“Doctor I've wrestled with reality for 40 years and I'm happy to say that I've finally won out over it.”


Frances Goodrich, for The Diary of Anne Frank, 1956 (with Albert Hackett). A New Jersey native and Vassar graduate, Goodrich (1890-1984) collaborated in theater, film, life and love with her husband Albert Hackett. The couple went to Hollywood in the 1920s and worked for MGM for most of the 1930s. As screenwriters, they received Academy Award nominations for The Thin Man (1934), After the Thin Man (1936), Father of the Bride (1950) and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1950). They also wrote another little picture called It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). In 1959, they adapted their stage play about Anne Frank as screenplay; the film won three Academy Awards.

 

 

 

“No one has ever become poor by giving.”


Ketti Frings, for Look Homeward, Angel, 1958. Born Katherine Hartley in Ohio (yes, the Midwest again) Ketti (1909-1981) was a copywriter and then wrote feature stories for United Press International.  Her first novel, Hold Back the Dawn, was made into a film starring Olivia de Havilland and Charles Boyer. She wrote several screenplays herself, including Come Back, Little Sheba (1952). Her Pulitzer-winning stage adaptation of Thomas Wolfe’s also received six Tony nominations.

 

 

 

 

 

''That's the convenient part about a fall guy: once you've got him hooked, you've always got him hooked.'' 


Beth Henley, Crimes of the Heart, 1981. After a 20+-year Pulitzer drought for women playwrights, Mississippian Beth Henley (b. 1952) won the prize for her very first professionally produced play. Crimes opened at the Actors Theatre of Louisville in 1978 and moved to the Manhattan Theatre Club in NYC; her script was nominated for a Tony and her screenplay for the film version was nominated for an Oscar. Henley said growing up with three sisters was a major inspiration for this Crimes. Henley’s first six plays are all set in the Deep South. She adapted her 1984 play, The Miss Firecracker Contest, into a 1989 film starring Holly Hunter.

 

 

 

“I tried to start a theatre in LA and failed miserably, but I was probably not meant to raise money.”


Marsha Norman, for ‘night, Mother, 1983. A native of Kentucky (b. 1947), Norman is a playwright, screenwriter and novelist who co-chairs the playwriting department at The Juilliard School. Early in her career, Norman worked as a journalist for The Louisville Times and wrote for Kentucky Educational Television. She also taught children and adolescents in mental institutions and hospitals, which was a great influence on her writing. Her early works were produced at the Actors Theatre of Louisville, and that relationship continued even after she moved to New York in the 1970s. ‘night, Mother deals frankly with the subject of suicide and won multiple awards in addition to the Pulitzer. Norman also wrote the screen play for the 1986 film version starring Sissy Spacek and Anne Bancroft. Norman wrote book and lyrics for the Broadway musical The Secret Garden, winning the Tony Award for the book; she also wrote book and lyrics for The Red Shoes and the book for The Bridges of Madison County.

“Dreams are illustrations... from the book your soul is writing about you.”


Wendy Wasserstein, The Heidi Chronicles, 1989. Born in Brooklyn, NY, Wendy Wasserstein (1950-2006) was the daughter of Morris Wasserstein, a successful textile executive, and his wife, Lola (née Liska), who moved to the U.S. from Poland when her father was accused of being a spy. Wasserstein once described her mother as being like “Auntie Mame.” Lola may have inspired some of her daughter's characters. Wasserstein’s MFA thesis play at Yale School of Drama was Uncommon Women and Others, produced Off-Broadway in 1977 starring Glenn Close, Jill Eikenberry and Swoosie Kurtz. In her nearly 40-year career, Wasserstein wrote 11 plays and won a Tony Award, a New York Drama Critics Circle Award, a Drama Desk Award, an Outer Critics Circle Award and of course the Pulitzer Prize. Her plays include The Sisters Rosenswieg, Isn’t It Romantic, An American Daughter, Old Money, and Third. She also wrote the screenplay for the 1998 film The Object of my Affection, starring Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd. The night after she died of lymphoma, Broadway’s lights were dimmed in her honor.

No matter how lonely you get or how many birth announcements you receive, the trick is not to get frightened. There's nothing wrong with being alone.”


Paula Vogel, for How I Learned to Drive, 1998. A native of Washington, D.C., Paula Vogel (b. 1951) started writing plays in the 1970s and came to national prominence with her AIDS-related seriocomedy The Baltimore Waltz, which won the Obie Award for Best Play in 1992. Her most famous work, How I Learned to Drive, examines the impact and echoes of child sexual abuse and incest. Other notable plays include Desdemona, A Play About A Handkerchief (1993); The Oldest Profession (1981); And Baby Makes Seven (1984); and The Mineola Twins (1996).  Vogel's play, Indecent, co-created and directed by Rebecca Taichman, marked Vogel’s Broadway debut in 2017.

 

 

 

If people get upset, it's because the play is working." 


Margaret Edson, for Wit, 1999. Another D.C. native, Margaret Edson (b. 1961) sent her script for Wit to 60 theaters across the country. Finally in 1995 South Coast Repertory accepted it and worked with Edson to revise the two act play into one, emotionally draining act. The production earned acclaim, but other theaters were reluctant to take it on until Long Wharf Theatre produced it in 1997, starring Kathleen Chalfant. Championed by Chalfant, the play was produced Off-Broadway and then opened at the Union Square Theatre in 1998, where it ran for 545 performances. Wit has received hundreds of productions in dozens of languages; the HBO film adaptation directed by Mike Nichols and starring Emma Thompson won the Emmy Award in 2001. Edson has been a public teacher since 1992, and has no plans to write another play.

 

 

"Now is a time for, dare I say it, kindness. I thought being extremely smart would take care of it. But I see I have been found out.” 


Suzan-Lori Parks, for Topdog/Underdog, 2002. Born in Kentucky in 1963, Parks grew up in a military family as her father was a career officer in the U.S. Army. She attended middle and high school in Germany, where she learned “what it feels like to be neither white nor black, but simply foreign.” She studied under James Baldwin at Mount Holyoke College. Parks has received 11 awards and was the first female African-American to receive the Pulitzer Prize. She is a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant. Her 19 plays include Father Comes Home From the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3, a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

 

 

 

 

“Be bold. Envision yourself living a life that you love. Believe, even if you can only muster your faith for just this moment, believe that the sort of life you wish to live is, at this very moment, just waiting for you to summon it up. And when you wish for it, you begin moving toward it, and it, in turn, begins moving toward you.”


Lynn Nottage, Ruined, 2009. Native New Yorker Lynn Nottage (b. 1964) made her Broadway debut this spring with her critically acclaimed play Sweat, a personal and political drama exploring America's industrial decline, that won the 2016 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. Many of the playwright’s works for theater depict the lives of women of African descent. Nottage has received many prestigious commissions, awards and grants, including a MacArthur “Genius” Grant in 2007.

 

 

 

 

 

Plays are getting smaller and smaller, not because playwrights minds are shrinking but because of the economics.”


Quiara Alegría Hudes, Water by the Spoonful, 2012. Hudes, born in Philadelphia in 1977, wrote the book for the musical In the Heights. She won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama her play Water by the Spoonful.  Her play Elliot, a Soldier's Fugue was a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“My brain is my biggest enemy—always arguing my soul into a corner.”


Annie Baker, The Flick, 2014. Baker (b. 1981) grew up in Amherst, Mass. She is a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and earned her MFA in playwriting from Brooklyn College in 2009. One of her early jobs was as a guest-wrangler helping to oversee contestants on the reality-television program The Bachelor. Her works for the stage include The Vermont Plays, which take place in the fictional town of Shirley: Circle Mirror TransformationBody Awareness, and The Aliens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Any given person you walk by on the street could be brilliant and also deluded and insane.”