Theater News

Susan Smith Blackburn Prize Awarded to Ava Pickett for 1536

The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize is the largest and oldest international award recognizing women+.

Ava Pickett
Ava Pickett
(handout image)

The 2024 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize was given to playwright Ava Pickett for her drama 1536. Awarded annually since 1978, the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize is the largest and oldest international award recognizing women+ who have written works of outstanding quality for the English-speaking theater.

The prize was awarded on March 11 at the Royal Court Theatre in London. Pickett received a cash award of $25,000 and a signed limited-edition print by renowned artist Willem de Kooning, created especially for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize.

US Playwright Justice Hehir won a Special Commendation Award of $10,000 for The Dowagers.

The eight additional finalists—Roxy Cook (UK-Russia) for A Woman Walks Into a Bank, April De Angelis (UK) for The Divine Mrs S, Rhianna Ilube (UK) for Samuel Takes a Break…In Male Dungeon No.5 After a Long But Generally Successful Day of Tours, Jasmine Naziha Jones (UK) for Baghdaddy, Alex Lin (US) for Chinese Republicans, Lenelle Moïse (US) for K-I-S-S-I-N-G, Hannah Moscovitch (CAN) for Red Like Fruit, and a.k. payne (US) for Love I Awethu Further—each received an award of $5,000.

The members of the panel of judges for the 46th Susan Smith Blackburn Prize are poet, playwright and curator Inua Ellams (UK), playwright Sarah Mantell (US, winner of the 2023 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize), actors April Matthis (US) and Clare Perkins (UK), and directors Eric Ting (US) and Lyndsey Turner (UK).

The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize reflects the values and passions of Susan Smith Blackburn, noted American feminist, actress, and writer who lived in London during the last 15 years of her life and died in 1977 at the age of 42. Since the prize’s creation, 504 plays have been honored as finalists. Eleven finalists have subsequently won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama.

A writer and performer, Pickett graduated from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in 2018 and was also a member of Soho Theatre Writers Lab that year. Pickett’s first commission was to write Roots for Radio 4, which aired in 2020. Pickett was a resident playwright at the Mercury Theatre in Essex and a staff writer on season three of The Great for Hulu/Channel 4.

Set in Tudor Essex, 1536 follows three best friends as they wrestle with marriage offers, gossip, and bad hair. When the news from London of the Queen’s arrest at the hands of her husband reaches them, the dynamics of their friendship begin to splinter as they struggle with what it means to be a woman in a society that kills women, even those high-born.

1536 was nominated by London’s Almeida Theatre, which commissioned the play as part of the Genesis Almeida New Playwrights/Big Plays Writers Programme, aimed at supporting emerging and mid-career writers to develop new plays for larger stages. This year, over 200 plays were submitted for consideration. The submitting theaters of the other finalists are 2b theatre company (Halifax), Ensemble Studio Theatre (NYC), the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center (Waterford, CT), Hampstead Theatre (London), Huntington Theatre (Boston), Royal Court Theatre (London), The Yard Theatre (London), Theatre 503 (London), and Yale Repertory Theatre (New Haven).