U.K. playwright Benedict Lombe has been awarded the 2022 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for her debut play Lava. The award, now in its 44th year, carries with it a cash prize of $25,000, as well as a signed print by renowned artist Willem de Kooning, created especially for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize.
Lava was commissioned by the Bush Theatre, where it debuted in 2021, performed by Ronke Adékoluejo and directed by Anthony Simpson-Pike. The one-woman show centers on a British Congolese woman, "Her," moving from Mobutu's Congo to post-Apartheid South Africa, Ireland and England in a search to discover why her South African passport does not carry her first name.
“Written in the summer of 2020, after the utter exhaustion felt by Black people around the globe, Lava is what poured out of my soul,” says Lombe. "Lava is a play that celebrates Blackness in its fullness, showcasing the joy, the struggle, the beauty, and the resistance that has maintained our survival... I wrote it because I wanted to make something that allowed Black people to enter a space and leave taller than when they walked in."
The nine finalists, who each received a prize of $5,000, were Chiara Atik from the U.S. for Poor Clare; Daniella De Jesús from the U.S. for Get Your Pink Hands Off Me Sucka and Give Me Back (FKA Columbus Play); Sarah Hanly from Ireland for Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks; Zora Howard from the U.S. for BUST; Sonya Kelly from Ireland for The Last Return; Joanna Murray-Smith from Australia for Berlin; Kae Tempest from the U.K. for Paradise; Lauren Whitehead from the U.S. for The Play Which Raises the Question of What Happened in/to Low Income Black Communities Between 1974 and 2004 and Hints at Why Mass Incarceration is Perhaps a Man-Made Disease and Highlights the Government’s General Lack of Empathy for Poor People of Color and Dispels the Notion that Our Condition is Our Fault and Helps Make Visible Why We Riot When We Mourn and Also Tells the Story of Anita Freeman & Her Kids; and Amanda Wilkin from the U.K. for Shedding a Skin.
The 2022 international judges panel included actor-writer-producer Adjoa Andoh (U.K.); playwright and associate artistic director of Center Theatre Group, Luis Alfaro (U.S.); writer, director, and artistic director of the Unicorn Theatre, Justin Audibert (U.K.); Olivier- and Tony-winning lighting designer, Paule Constable (U.K.); actor Saidah Arrika Ekulona (U.S.); and Obie and Lilly award-winning director Whitney White (U.S.).
Past winners of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize include Erika Dickerson-Despenza's cullud wattah, Lynn Nottage's Sweat, Lucy Prebble's A Very Expensive Poison, Jackie Sibblies Drury's Fairview, Annie Baker's The Flick, Caryl Churchill’s Fen and Serious Money, Marsha Norman’s ‘night, Mother, Paula Vogel's How I Learned to Drive, Julia Cho’s The Language Archive, Katori Hall's Hurt Village, Wendy Wasserstein's The Heidi Chronicles, Chloe Moss’s This Wide Night, and Sarah Ruhl's The Clean House.