Brothers of the Dust, a Darren Canady drama, set in 1958, about an African-American man who runs a hardscrabble farm in Arkansas, has won the M. Elizabeth Osborn Award as best new play by an emerging playwright, the American Theater Critics Association announced today.
Brothers of the Dust, which premiered in May 2011 at Congo Square Theatre Company in Chicago under the direction of Daniel Bryant, is set in 1958. It tells the story of Roy Colton, who stayed in Arkansas to farm the land he and his brothers inherited from their parents. When the brothers – one is a writer and the other, a failed entrepreneur – want him to have the land assayed for possible oil, it opens up a can of worms in which sex, race and pride are principal elements.
Canady had previously shared a best playwriting award for Brothers of the Dust at Chicago’s Black Theater Alliance/Ira Aldridge Awards. “[Y]ou can’t ask for a more tightly constructed plot,” Newcitystage.com observed.
Canady, an assistant professor in the University of Kansas English department, frequently writes about the African-American experience in the Midwest during the tumultuous changes of the second half of the 20th Century. He wrote on the university’s website: “I grew up hearing, seeing, and listening to family stories that were only told if they could be performed with as much blood, life, exuberance, and expressiveness as possible. Many of these stories grew out of personal journeys experienced against the backdrop of Jim Crow, the Great Migration, and the Civil Rights Movement…. [I] find myself consistently returning to investigations of family, history, and social change in the ever-changing landscape of the American heartland.” He received a B.A. in creative writing from Carnegie Mellon University, an M.F.A. from the Tisch School of the Arts, and an Artists’ Diploma from The Juilliard School’s Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program.
ATCA’s Osborn Award is designed to recognize the work of an author who has not yet achieved national stature. The award was established in 1993 to honor the memory of Theatre Communications Group and American Theatre play editor M. Elizabeth Osborn. The $1,000 prize is funded by the Foundation of the American Theatre Critics Association. Honorees are recognized in The Best Plays Theater Yearbook, edited by Jeffrey Eric Jenkins, the biennial chronicle of United States theater (Theatre years 2009-2010 is due to be published Aug, 2012.) ATCA New Plays Committee, chaired by William F. Hirschman, make the selection from plays nominated by ATCA members.