New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award presented to Tarell Alvin McCraney

The New York Times Company awarded its first New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award, a prize to honor an American playwright with a recent professional theater debut in New York City, to Tarell Alvin McCraney for his play The Brothers Size.

The event took place on 27 May 2009 at the Times Center where an enthusiastic audience listened to an intimate and often moving interview between cultural news editor Sam Sifton and Mr. McCraney.

Mr. McCraney is from Miami and grew up in Liberty City, which, as he puts it, is NOT South Beach. There he was exposed to a tapestry of people including Baptists, street folk, and practitioners of Voodoo. He was raised with color and movement, spirits and myths, vibrance and danger. Growing up was difficult, and it was the theatre that saved his life and gave it purpose. When he saw the effect that storytelling had on people who needed to see a truth in front of them, he knew he had a purpose. Theatre for some may be a way to pass the time, but for McCraney it is a reason to live.

He has been working feverishly for many years, and has found himself an often lonely person with no peers to share the pace of his commitment to work and play. His remedy for that is to work more, creating plays that have been produced both here and in London where he is the Playwright in Residence at the Royal Shakespeare Company. His Brothers/Sisters Trilogy will be produced at the Public here in the fall.

McCraney is a writer who believes that people can follow a complicated tale that is a simple story at its core. He brings elements of dance, mythology and poetry to his work and is devoted to creating interesting ways to keep an audience engaged (he knows some of them would rather be texting) and interesting ways to send them home. McCraney is as fascinated with what is happening to the audience as he is with what is happening on the stage. His dream is to see theatre reach past the people to whom it is initially offered (New York, Chicago, London) and send it out to the small towns where people are thirsty for plays. Small places like Bessemer, Alabama for instance. McCraney understands that theatre is a gift that is best used when it is given freely and spread liberally.

The members of the selection committee were Sylvia Gold, chair, a frequent contributor to The New York Times, Tony Award-winning playwrights Edward Albee, Richard Greenberg and James Lapine, Lynn Nottage the recipient of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and, from The New York Times, cultural news editor Sam Sifton, theater editor Katherine E. Bouton and Arts & Leisure theater editor Andrea Stevens.