NEW YORK — The Legacy Playwrights Initiative has announced the recipients of the inaugural Legacy Playwrights Initiative Awards, which aims to honor and advocate for elder playwrights who have fallen out of the public eye. The winners are Ed Bullins, Constance Congdon, and Philip Kan Gotanda.
The playwrights were recognized at the Dramatists Guild Foundation “Write in the Dark” virtual benefit on Dec. 21, featuring special guests Lou Bellamy, Oskar Eustis, David Henry Hwang, Tony Kushner, Phylicia Rashad, and Paula Vogel.
The Legacy Playwrights Initiative was founded by Anne Cattaneo (Lincoln Center Theater), Benita Hofstetter Koman (formerly of the Roy Cockrum Foundation), Todd London (Dramatists Guild), and Rachel Routh (Dramatists Guild Foundation), with fiscal sponsorship from the Dramatists Guild Foundation and in partnership with the Dramatists Guild of America.
Gotanda is the creator of one of the largest canons of Asian American-themed works and has been instrumental in bringing stories of Asians in the United States to mainstream American theatre, as well as to Europe and Asia.
In the early 1970s, Gotanda began writing and performing songs chronicling the emergent Asian American identity. Along with other artist-activists, he performed his songs at demonstrations, political rallies, as well as colleges and universities around the country. Titles included “Ballad of the Issei,” “Asian American Dream,” and “All American Asian Punk.”
He then began to write plays, including “The Avocado Kid,” “Song for a Nisei Fisherman,” “Fish Head Soup,” “Yohen,” “Sisters Matsumoto,” “Yankee Dawg You Die,” “Ballad of Yachiyo,” “After the War,” “The Wash” (which was also made into a film), “The Wind Cries Mary,” and “I Dream of Chang and Eng.” He was also the librettist for “Manzanar: An American Story,” an original symphonic piece with spoken narrative text.
Gotanda holds a law degree from Hastings College of Law and studied pottery in Japan with the late Hiroshi Seto. He is also a respected independent filmmaker, with films including “Life Tastes Good,” “Drinking Tea,” and “The Kiss,” all official entries at the Sundance Film Festival.
Gotanda’s libretto for the opera “Both Eyes Open” with composer Max Duykers is scheduled to premiere later next year at the Presidio Theater in San Francisco. He is presently working on music projects with composer Shinji Eshima and multi-instrumentalist David Coulter.
Gotanda is the recipient of a Guggenheim, TCG/Pew, and Lila Wallace, as well as other honors and awards. He is a professor with the Department of Theater Dance and Performance Studies at UC Berkeley.
Congdon has been called “one of the best playwrights our country and our language has ever produced” by playwright Tony Kushner in Kushner’s introduction to her collection “Tales of the Lost Formicans and Other Plays.” Other works include “Casanova,” “Dog Opera,” “Losing Father’s Body,” “Lips,” “Native American,” and “A Mother,” among others.
She has also written a number of opera libretti and seven plays for the Children’s Theatre Company of Minneapolis. She’s a proud alum of New Dramatists, member of the Dramatists Guild and of PEN, and the Lilly Award.
Congdon has taught playwriting at the Yale School of Drama and Amherst College. Since retiring from Amherst, she has written more plays: “Enemy Sky”; “Take Me to the River,” a revision of her play about the water crisis in the West; “Hair of the Dog,” a new play about the death of Marlowe as investigated by William Shakespeare and Marlowe’s sisters.
In the works: a play about Lise Meitner, untitled as of yet, and a play about love and obsession: “Cupid and Psycho.” Congdon lives in Hadley, Mass.
Bullins is an African American playwright and author who began his professional playwriting career began in 1965 with the production of “How Do You Do,” “Dialect Determinism (or The Rally),” and “Clara’s Ole Man” at the Firehouse Repertory Theatre in San Francisco. He later became the resident playwright and associate director at Robert Macbeth’s New Lafayette Theatre in New York City.
Bullins headed the Black Theatre Workshop, which gave starts to Richard Wesley, OyamO, Martie Charles, and others. He edited **Black Theatre Magazine,** published by the New Lafayette, and later directed the Writers’ Unit Playwrights Workshop for Joseph Papp at the Public Theatre and the Playwrights Workshop at Woodie King’s New Federal Theatre in NYC. He also served in the Cherry Lane Theater Mentor Project.
Bullins earned his B.A. degree from Antioch College in 1989 and his MFA in playwriting from San Francisco State University. Some other plays of Bullins include “It Has No Choice,” “In the Wine Time,” “Goin’ a Buffalo,” “A Son Come Home,” and “The Electronic Nigger,” which collectively won the Vernon Rice Drama Desk Award, and “The Taking of Miss Janie,” for which he received both an Obie Award and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award.
Bullins has received Guggenheim Fellowships, Rockefeller Foundation playwriting grants, an AUDELCO Award, a National Endowment for the Arts playwriting grant, and others. Before retiring, he was a Distinguished Artist-in-Residence at Northeastern University in Boston.