The Pulitzer Prizes in arts and letters were handed out on Monday and two notable winners (for the audience of this site, particularly) were poet Jericho Brown, who won for his book The Tradition, and playwright Michael R. Jackson, who won for his musical A Strange Loop. Jackson is the first black writer to win the prize for musical theatre.
Copper Canyon Press’s description of The Tradition: “Beauty abounds in Jericho Brown’s Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry collection, despite and inside of the evil that pollutes the everyday. A National Book Award finalist, The Tradition questions why and how we’ve become accustomed to terror: in the bedroom, the classroom, the workplace, and the movie theater. From mass shootings to rape to the murder of unarmed people by police, Brown interrupts complacency by locating each emergency in the garden of the body, where living things grow and wither—or survive. In the urgency born of real danger, Brown’s work is at its most innovative. His invention of the duplex—a combination of the sonnet, the ghazal, and the blues—is an all-out exhibition of formal skill, and his lyrics move through elegy and memory with a breathless cadence. Jericho Brown is a poet of eros: here he wields this power as never before, touching the very heart of our cultural crisis.”
Said Brown to the site Divedapper in 2016: [Poetry] allows me to deal with being an artist of many backgrounds and to hold great complexity in my very being. … For me, it becomes a way to think and re-think about tradition. I have the opportunity to carve something new in a tradition—in several traditions—that is a very long and very old tradition. And that seems to be our job. How do we move forward within the tradition as individuals? And that’s exactly what I’m after. I’m not after a rejection of being a Black gay poet. I’m after understanding what being a Black gay poet might allow me. I’m not the only, or the first, Black gay poet, so what does being a Southern-gay-Black-poet allow me? What can that bring forth in my work? That’s what I’m really interested in seeing. I’m interested in looking at the larger—supposedly larger tradition and all of the traditions within that supposedly larger tradition. I’m going to change that because I hate the word so much because obviously I am one hundred percent an American poet. I am a part of the larger tradition. I am an English-speaking poet.”
Wrote Playbill: “A Strange Loop made its world premiere last year at Off-Broadway’s Playwrights Horizons in a co-production with Page 73. The musical, inspired by Jackson’s own experiences, follows a young artist at war with a host of demons—not least of which are the punishing thoughts in his own head—in an attempt to capture and understand his own strange loop. Directed by Stephen Brackett with choreography by Raja Feather Kelly, A Strange Loop played an acclaimed, extended run at Playwrights May 24–July 7, 2019. In addition to the Pulitzer, the musical was named the Best Musical of the 2019–2020 season by the New York Drama Critics Circle and was nominated for the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Musical (winning two Lucille Lortel Awards for actors Larry Owens and John-Andrew Morrison). The production also recently earned six Drama Desk Award nominations.”
Towleroad’s theatre critic Naveen Kumar called A Strange Loop one of his top 10 plays and musicals of 2019: “Michael R. Jackson’s semi-autobiographical meta musical about a playwright struggling to write a ‘big, Black, and queer-ass American Broadway show’ is as layered with pleasures as provocations. Larry Owens gave an exuberant, full-body performance as an artist trying to claim space for his vision while sorting out what’s going on in his head. Raw, revelatory and filled with personal and political insights set to irresistible song, A Strange Loop is everything its protagonist is trying to write and more.”
Check out some clips from A Strange Loop.
Congrats to both Brown and Jackson!