Arthur Kopit, Emily Mann, Keith Josef Adkins, Lisa Ramirez and More Win 2015 NYCT Helen Merrill Playwright Awards

By: Jul. 16, 2015

Ten playwrights have won the New York Community Trust Helen Merrill Playwright Awards, honoring established and emerging writers for the theater. The winners are currently producing work on topics ranging from basement dwelling families in the middle of the 21st century to the 19th century all-black community that faced destruction in order to create Central Park.

Winners are selected by a committee of distinguished playwrights and professionals in the field.


Keith J. Adkins, Brooklyn, NY

David A. Grimm, Brooklyn, NY

Arthur Kopit, Manhattan, NY

Emily Mann, Princeton, NY

Matthew Moses, Brooklyn, NY

Qui Nguyen, Brooklyn, NY

Lisa Ramirez, Manhattan, NY

Max Eli Posner, Brooklyn, NY

Jen Silverman, Manhattan, NY

Stefanie Zadravec, Brooklyn, NY


"After my son's autism diagnosis, many things fell apart-friendships, finances, freedom-my experience of the world was transformed," says Stefanie Zadravec, winner of a New York Community Trust Helen Merrill Emerging Playwright Award. "In spite of having less time and energy I continued to write plays, often working through the night in order to capture a good stretch of uninterrupted quiet. This award is much needed encouragement that the work I struggle to finish is worthy and resonant."

"As a young single father, this award is nothing less than an absolute life-saver. It gives me some security to help take care of my two boys as I continue to strive to be an example to them that if you truly love something, you fight for it with all you've got," says Qui Nguyen, Emerging Playwright Award winner. "Bottom line, this award keeps me in the game."

"This award is a refreshing reminder that there's a community out there that collectively winks at you and says, 'We've got your back. Keep writing.'" Keith Josef Adkins, a Mid-Career Playwright Award winner.

"Why do playwrights write plays? Basically, because it's what they love. That's why Helen Merrill did what she did, and everyone who was privileged to know her understood that. It's why she mattered so much," says Arthur Kopit, Distinguished Playwright Award winner.


"Helen Merrill came to us to ensure that her legacy would be carried out in the way that she wanted, as we have done for so many generous New Yorkers," says Gay Young, vice president of donor services at The New York Community Trust. "We think Ms. Merrill would be extremely happy to know that her unwavering support and dedication to the theater lives on."

Christopher Durang, award-winning playwright and member of the award selection committee, recalls Merrill's dedication to the theater. "Helen was my first agent, and I stayed with her for 22 years, until her death. She would often offer to loan money to clients who were feeling strapped, and when I was ill, she surprised me by making the most delicious chicken soup and then sending it to me by messenger."


Winners are chosen in three categories: Emerging, Mid-Career, and Distinguished.

Emerging Playwrights:

Matt Moses has an MFA from Yale School of Drama, and his plays include The Dead New York, The Covering Skyline is Nothing, and Emperor of Ice Cream or Thirteen Ways of Looking at Donald Rumsfeld. His play The Cloud, a mistaken identity comedy that takes place in the internet, was recently produced by Slant Theater Project at HERE in NYC.

Qui Nguyen is a member of New Dramatists, a pioneer of "Geek Theatre," and co-founder of the OBIE Award-winning Vampire Cowboys. His newest play, VietGone, a hip-hop romantic comedy about his parents' love story, will premiere at South Coast Repertory Theatre in October and at Oregon Shakespeare Festival in March 2016, both directed by May Adrales.

Max Posner is a graduate of the Juilliard playwriting program and is writer-in-residence at Williamstown Theatre in Massachusetts. His play Judy will premiere this fall at the New Ohio Theater in NYC; it is a subterranean comedy about an American family in 2040 struggling to stay connected across three separate basements when technology and communication break down.

Lisa Ramirez whose solo show, Exit Cuckoo (nanny in motherland), helped shine light on the labor rights of domestic workers, is currently working on a screenplay of Cherry Lane's last season's hit To The Bone, which tells the stories of female immigrant poultry plant workers. Her new play All Fall Down focuses on the destructive impact of substance abuse and loss on a family.

Jen Silverman graduated from the Juilliard playwriting program and won the Yale Prize for her play Still. Her play The Roommate was just at the Humana Festival, and in the fall, the Yale Repertory Theater will premiere The Moors, a darkly comic riff about the world of the Bronte sisters.

Stefanie Zadravec's current projects include: The Boat, commissioned by the Working Theater; The Nocturnal Cry of a Great Potoo, a commission from The Women's Project; and Colony Collapse, a commission of The Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Colony Collapse is about recovering meth addicts starting a new life on an orchard in Oregon.

Mid-Career Playwrights:

David Grimm is known for his witty spins on classic and historical figures, works, periods, and styles-as revealed in plays such as Kit Marlowe and Measure for Pleasure at the Public Theater, and Sheridan at La Jolla Playhouse in California. His new play, Oriflamme, will be presented this fall at 59E59 as part of a festival of short plays based on the work of Tennessee Williams.

Keith Josef Adkins is the author of several plays about the African American experience, including Pitbulls and Last Saint on Sugar Hill and is also Artistic Director of New Black Festival. His new play, The People Before the Park, is about the 19th century all-black community called Seneca Village, which faced destruction in order to create Central Park, and will debut at Premiere Stages in Union, New Jersey (where it won the 2015 New Play Festival) in September.

Distinguished Playwrights:

Arthur Kopit is the Playwrights Workshop Director at the Lark Theater. He burst on the theatrical scene with Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad, winning the Vernon Rice Award. He received Tony nominations for Indians, Wings, and the musical Nine. His play Discovery of America will be produced by the Alley Theater in Houston, Texas in 2016.

Emily Mann is a playwright and director, and in her 25th year as artistic director of the McCarter Theater in Princeton, New Jersey. Her plays include Still Life (six Obie Awards), Execution of Justice (about Dan White) and her Broadway success Having Our Say (Dramatist's Guild Hull-Warriner Award) based on the lives of the Delaney Sisters; she is currently writing a play for Gloria Steinem, commissioned by Lincoln Center Theater.

SELECTED PAST WINNERS - David Adjmi, Zakiyyah Alexander, David Auburn, Tanya Barfield, Neal Bell, Brooke Berman, Constance Congdon, Kara Lee Corthron, Nilo Cruz, Angela Eisa Davis, Bathsheba Doran, Margaret Edson, Will Eno, Marcus Gardley, Gina Gionfriddo, Jessica Goldberg, Michael Golamco, Noah Haidle, Robert Handel, Amy Herzog, Albert Innaurato, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Robert Kerr, Oni Faida Lampley, Deborah Laufer, Tina Howe, Victor Lodato, Deborah Margolin, Dael Orlandersmith, David Rabe, Adam Rapp, Keith Reddin, Sarah Ruhl, Wallace Shawn, Justin Sherin, Theodora Skipitares, Victoria Stewart, Gary Sunshine, Michael Weller, Samuel Brett Williams, and Lanford Wilson.

ABOUT HELEN MERRILL (pictured, above) - Helen Merrill, theatrical agent and mentor to scores of aspiring playwrights, directors, designers, and composers, she was, in her own words, the theater. Her focus always was on discovering new talent in the adventurous world of the alternative and off-Broadway theater. She cared deeply about the playwrights that she worked with. By the time she passed away in 1997, she had spent little of the money she had earned from her career as photographer and theater agent, and had left the bulk of her estate to create the Helen Merrill Fund in The New York Community Trust. With it, we provide awards to aspiring playwrights and mid-career playwrights who need financial help to expand their work.

ABOUT THE NEW YORK COMMUNITY TRUST- Since 1924, The New York Community Trust has been the home of charitable New Yorkers who share a passion for the City and its suburbs-and who are committed to improving them. The Trust supports an array of effective nonprofits that help make the City a vital and secure place to live, learn, work, and play, while building permanent resources for the future. The New York Community Trust ended 2014 with assets of nearly $2.6 billion in more than 2,000 charitable funds, and made grants totaling $158 million. The Trust welcomes new donors. Information at

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