Sarah Ruhl, whose plays include The Clean House (Susan Smith Blackburn award, 2004, finalist for Pulitzer Prize, 2005), Dead Man’s Cell Phone, Demeter in the City (nominated for an NAACP award), Melancholy Play, Eurydice, Late: A Cowboy Song, Orlando, and Passion Play (Kennedy Center Fourth Forum Freedom Award and Helen Hayes nomination)

The PEN/Laura Pels Foundation Awards for Drama recognize a master American dramatist and an American playwright in mid-career, both of whose literary achievements are vividly apparent in the rich and striking language of their work. The former receives a rare first edition of dramatic literature from Bauman’s Rare Books, the latter a $7,500 stipend. The awards were developed to reflect Laura Pels’ dedication to supporting excellence in American theater, as well as PEN’s commitment to recognizing and rewarding the literary accomplishments of playwrights. As is the case with all PEN awards, the judges of the Pels Awards are all distinguished members of the theater community.

2008 Judges

A.R. Gurney, Naomi Iizuka, and Doug Wright

From the Judges’ Citation

“Sarah Ruhl is one of the most imaginative voices in the landscape of American playwriting. Her plays weave together the magical with the universals of our everyday lives in inspired, fiercely original creations. Her play Eurydice features a chorus of stones, a room made of string, and an elevator that travels between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Her play The Clean House features a giant tree, jokes in Portuguese, and the premise that heaven is “a sea of untranslatable jokes. Only everyone is laughing.” Ruhl’s plays are wrestling with no less than what it means to be alive, what it means to die, and the transformative possibilities of love in the time in between—love between parents and children, love between siblings, love between lovers and ex-lovers, and even love between strangers. All of her plays evince a delightful inventiveness, a keen understanding of the possibilities of metaphor, and a gift for storytelling. Beyond the mastery of craft, however, Ruhl’s plays are animated by a compassion that is truly singular. So many of her plays explore the nature of grief and loss and how we recover or don’t. That they do so with such wisdom is a gift to her collaborators and her audiences. Ruhl has already distinguished herself as a vital voice in contemporary American theatre. I know I speak for many when I say that we are deeply enriched by the plays she has written and excited to see the plays she will write in the months and years to come.”