Katori Hall’s comedy-drama play The Hot Wing King, which was given a world premiere by Off Broadway’s Signature Theatre Company just before the pandemic shutdown, was awarded the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Drama today.
Hall, a Memphis native currently Tony-nominated for writing the book for Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, is also the executive producer and showrunner of Starz’s P-Valley, a drama series based on her play Pussy Valley. She won an Olivier Award for her 2009 play The Mountaintop, which starred Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett on Broadway.
Set in Memphis, Tennessee, just in time for the annual “Hot Wang Festival,” the play follows two Black gay men and “their culinary clique, The New Wing Order,” as they prepare their culinary entry. As described by Signature, “When Dwayne takes in his troubled nephew however, it becomes a recipe for disaster. Suddenly, a first place trophy isn’t the only thing Cordell risks losing.”
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The play premiered at Signature’s Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre on February 11, 2020.
The Pulitzer board called The Hot Wing King “a funny, deeply felt consideration of Black masculinity and how it is perceived filtered through the experiences of a loving gay couple and their extended family as they prepare for a culinary competition.”
The two other finalists for the Drama prize were Circle Jerk by Michael Breslin and Patrick Foley, and Stew by Zora Howard.
Circle Jerk is described by its authors as “a queer comedy about white gay supremacy, a homopessimist hybrid of yesterday’s live theater and today’s livestream (set in tomorrow’s news cycle). It tells the story of gay, right-wing trolls and the algorithms they invent to spread their gay agenda and take over the Discourse…and then, the world. In an era when truth is dead and fact is fiction, Circle Jerk is a realistic comedy about a bleakly farcical reality.”
Stew, Howard’s first play, ran in February 2020 at New York’s Off Broadway Walkerspace, and follows a family of three generations of women who grapple with their personal choices.
The nominations seemed to catch Circle Jerk‘s Breslin and Foley, aka “Fake Friends,” off-guard:
I’m sorry …. What the fuck is happening pic.twitter.com/yRRDXWmX0A
— Fake Friends (@faaakefriends) June 11, 2021
With Broadway theaters and other stages shuttered by the coronavirus pandemic for the last 15 months, the Pulitzer Prize board amended its rules for drama prize eligibility to include online productions and shows that were postponed or canceled due to the Covid shutdown.
“The spread of the Covid virus has closed theaters but has in no way dampened the creativity of the nation’s playwrights,” said Pulitzer co-chairs Stephen Engelberg and Aminda Marqués Gonzalez in a joint statement last September. “In this year, of all years, we wanted to honor the work that is being done. The shows are going on, even if the audience is remote.”
Other 2021 Pulitzer winners in the Books, Drama and Music categories (with the Pulitzer organization’s descriptions) are:
The Night Watchman, by Louise Erdrich
A majestic, polyphonic novel about a community’s efforts to halt the proposed displacement and elimination of several Native American tribes in the 1950s, rendered with dexterity and imagination.
Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America, by Marcia Chatelain
A nuanced account of the complicated role the fast-food industry plays in African-American communities, a portrait of race and capitalism that masterfully illustrates how the fight for civil rights has been intertwined with the fate of Black businesses.
The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X, by the late Les Payne and Tamara Payne
A powerful and revelatory account of the civil rights activist, built from dozens of interviews, offering insight into his character, beliefs and the forces that shaped him.
Postcolonial Love Poem, by Natalie Diaz
A collection of tender, heart-wrenching and defiant poems that explore what it means to love and be loved in an America beset by conflict.
Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy, by David Zucchino
A gripping account of the overthrow of the elected government of a Black-majority North Carolina city after Reconstruction that untangles a complicated set of power dynamics cutting across race, class and gender.
Stride, by Tania León
Premiered at David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City on February 13, 2020, a musical journey full of surprise, with powerful brass and rhythmic motifs that incorporate Black music traditions from the US and the Caribbean into a Western orchestral fabric.
In addition, The New York Times critic-at-large Wesley Morris won the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, with the board noting his “unrelentingly relevant and deeply engaged criticism on the intersection of race and culture in America, written in a singular style, alternately playful and profound.” The prize is Morris’ second Pulitzer: He previously won the same award in 2012 while working at The Boston Globe.