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A Van Lier Fellow in 1993, a Pulitzer Winner in 2009


Playwright Lynn Nottage
Playwright Lynn Nottage
Playwright Lynn Nottage lives in the same house in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn that she grew up in, but she has taken her career farther than most. A 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner for Ruined, professor at the Yale School of Drama, winner of the MacArthur Genius and Obie awards, and a Guggenheim fellow, Ms. Nottage is an inspiration to playwrights everywhere. But in 1993, long before receiving these honors, she received a New York Community Trust Van Lier fellowship with New Dramatists, an organization that helps playwrights develop their work.

We are certain that Edward and Sally Van Lier, the generous donors behind the fellowships, would be impressed. Passionate art patrons, the Van Liers delighted in taking young people with them to the opera, the Met, and the ballet. In their wills they created a fund in The Trust to help gifted disadvantaged young people who aspire to careers in the arts. To date, the Van Lier program has distributed almost $12 million to organizations that prepare students for conservatory or college and support dancers, visual artists, filmmakers, musicians, playwrights, and actors early in their careers.

The Trust spoke with Nottage about her career, the fellowship, and why time devoted to craft is so imperative. “I had seen that the Van Lier fellowships were available through various cultural groups, but I thought that New Dramatists seemed a perfect fit for me. I applied and was accepted in 1993, and that marked the beginning of my playwriting career. However, these fellowships are never quite enough to live on, so I did have to keep my day job.” She continued, “What we do is such a solitary form, and this fellowship really offers a community that provides nurturing and traction in the theater world. It helped me tap into the wealth of resources that [New Dramatists] had to offer: guidance in the business, what theaters to send your plays to, feedback on readings, and peers that will read your plays and provide critical and creative voices.”

Since achieving success, she has given back to this community, serving as a mentor to recent Van Lier fellows. Her advice to young playwrights? “Writing for the theater is a battle of attrition and you have to be persistent. On average, it takes ten years of focus on craft to get your first break. It might seem obvious, but you have to make a choice to do this because it’s easy to get distracted by this city.” She also said that young playwrights today can put too much emphasis on getting their work out. When her students ask her where to send their plays, she may suggest a rework instead. “When you are sending out plays, it’s your calling card, you want to make sure that first play is going to serve you well, and that it’s not a first draft.”

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