Donja R. Love, Diana Oh, and More Are Recipients of the 2020 Helen Merrill Award

By: Jun. 18, 2020
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Six American Playwrights have won a total of $150,000 as the 2020 winners of The New York Community Trust's Helen Merrill Award for Playwriting. The winners are Donnetta Lavinia Grays, Kimber Lee, Donja R. Love, Mona Mansour, Diana Oh, and Sung Rno.

The $25,000 award is one of the largest and most significant prizes for playwrights in the nation and, for many, is a springboard that helps propel already distinguished careers to a new level. Previous award winners have gone on to win Tony Awards and Pulitzer Prizes-and many have built long careers on and off Broadway.

The late theatrical agent Helen Merrill created a fund in The New York Community Trust to carry out her charitable legacy. Since 1999, the fund has made 92 awards totaling $1.9 million.

Theater has long been an important force in advancing social change, and this year's winners of the Helen Merrill Award represent a diverse and talented group of artists who have been producing courageous material that challenges audiences.

The monetary awards are designed to help give recipients the time and financial security to write-which is especially critical as this year's winners navigate how to continue to create thought-provoking work during a time of renewed calls for civil rights and unprecedented career disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

"This is a moment of profound loss for many," said Salem Tsegaye, The New York Community Trust's program officer for arts & culture. "In this period of extreme precarity, the Helen Merrill Award, a field honor and cash prize, not only acknowledges the work and contributions of these talented playwrights, but helps ensure that they can sustain their practice and continue to inspire much needed social transformation."

Mansour, for instance, was set to see her three-play work, The Vagrant Trilogy, make its New York debut at The Public Theater in March-only to see the production postponed to a later date. She, like her colleagues who have received the prize, sees it as an opportunity to help carry work forward at a critical time.

"This is a time of unprecedented uncertainty for everyone and the timing of this award is like a miracle," Mansour said. "I'm honored to be in the company of this group of playwrights, all of whom have been forced to confront some sort of danger in their lives and write in the face of fear. This award provides an opportunity to keep creating and giving voice to those in our communities."