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NC Playwrights Are Having a Moment

The Network was founded by writers for the page, not the stage, but dramatists like Paul Green and Samm-Art Williams are as much a part of our literary heritage as Thomas Wolfe (who wrote and produced plays while a student at UNC).

NC born playwrights are still making literary history.

James Ijames, a performer and playwright who grew up in Bessemer City, recently received the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play Fat Ham, set in a North Carolina barbecue joint. The play, a loose adaption of Hamlet, is Ijames’ first work set in the South.

In the Gaston Gazette, Ijames (pronounced “imes”) said, “In the South, when we talk to each other, there’s just like a music in the way that we speak. So that’s always in everything that I write. Even when I’m not writing about the South, I can’t really get away from it.”

News of the award received congratulations from Governor Roy Cooper.

Ijames is an Associate Professor of Theatre at Villanova University and a co-artistic of the Wilma Theater. He lives in South Philadelphia. Fat Ham officially opened in May at The Public’s Anspacher Theater in New York City and runs through July 17.

Closer to home, Triad Stage in Greensboro will kick off their twentieth season with a local focus. Rebellious, an original commissioned work by NC playwright (and former NCWN Trustee) Mike Wiley, highlights the Bennett Belles: the group of women who played an important role during the Greensboro Sit-Ins. The play will be in production October 3-23. Single tickets go on sale August 1.

After two years of closed doors due to Covid, the theatre shifted focus with a renewed commitment to diversity and local community.

Triad Stage will end the season in May 2023 celebrating another NC-born playwright: Winston-Salem native Bekah Brunstetter, whose play Cake, set in a Winston-Salem bakery, explores southern family, delicious baked goods, and gay marriage.

Brunstetter completed her undergrad at UNC-Chapel Hill and has worked as a writer for TV productions like Switched at Birth, American Gods, This is Us, and Maid.

Playwriting is focused on the stage (rather than writing for the page). Yet there’s much to gain from fiction and poetry writers engaging playwriting techniques and performance, and vice versa. Theatre offers an opportunity to explore contemporary storytelling, particularly in a state seeped in rich history and an increasingly globalized population.

Ijames recently told the New York Times that “I love that people who write for a living saw something that I wrote and they saw something of beauty in it. I love writers. I love poets. I love journalists. I love fiction writers. And so I am always really honored when I get to be in the company of people who are curious about ideas.”