Lynn Nottage is a playwright, screenwriter, filmmaker, and MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” winner born and living in Brooklyn, New York. She is the only woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama twice.
Nottage has also been honored with the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, OBIE Awards, Helen Hayes Awards, and nominations for Tony Awards and Drama Desk Awards. Notable works include Sweat; Ruined (Everyman 2015); Intimate Apparel (Everyman 2017); By the Way, Meet Vera Stark (Everyman 2014); Crumbs from the Table of Joy; and Fabulation, or the Re-Education of Undine. Nottage also worked as a Press Officer at Amnesty International and is an Associate Professor of theatre at Columbia University and a Lecturer at the Yale School of Drama.
Surprisingly, Sweat is the only of Nottage’s plays to be produced on Broadway despite her storied career off-Broadway and around the world. Nottage and fellow playwright and former teacher, Paula Vogel, spoke about their long journeys to the Great White Way in a New York Times article this year: “The two of us write history plays, and we write political plays, and I think that that’s why, perhaps, our journey has been a little different,” Ms. Nottage said. “The plays are unabashedly political and they’re about very difficult subject matters and they tend to be unafraid of the darkness. And I think that women writers are supposed to embrace the light.”
Nottage’s plays are set everywhere from a Pennsylvania town in the early 2000s to Hollywood in the 1930s to a brothel in the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo, but they are connected in their stories of the African or African-American woman’s experience and in amplifying the voices of people who are often overlooked. When writing, Nottage conducts intense textual and photographic research, following a motto of “replace judgment with curiosity.”
In addition to this solo research, Nottage also interviewed survivors of the Congolese civil war in Uganda for Ruined and factory workers in Reading, Pennsylvania for Sweat. It’s no wonder, then, that Nottage’s characters are often “morally ambiguous heroes or heroines, people who are fractured within their own bodies, who have to make very difficult choices in order to survive” (New Yorker) given that they are based on the experiences of real people.
In Her Words
On Her Second Pulitzer Prize Win...
“No. 1, I’m representing for women, and No. 2, I’m representing for playwrights of color.”
On the Journey to Broadway...
“...repeatedly I heard, ‘There are no black actresses who can open a Broadway play.’ It was frustrating—the unwillingness to gamble on this play [Ruined] that had proven to be very successful, because it was written by a woman of color and starred women of color.”
On Writing From Experience...
“I always write about my experience; it’s just told through metaphor… I just feel like I follow where my imagination goes. I think I’m restless. And I think the restlessness is manifest in the work. I like to wander; I’ve always liked to wander, from the time I was very young. I like to travel to different places; I like to see different landscapes. I think that that’s just sort of flowed into my work.”