Adrienne Kennedy Receives Dramatists Guild 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award

The Dramatists Guild of America is thrilled to announce that the recipient of the 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award is Adrienne Kennedy. The award will be presented at the Guild’s annual awards ceremony at a later date. 

Adrienne Kennedy

The Lifetime Achievement Award is presented by the Dramatists Guild Council in recognition of distinguished lifetime achievement in theatrical writing. Previous recipients include A.R. Gurney, John Guare, Micki Grant, Paula Vogel, Terrence McNally, Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock, Lanford Wilson, Joseph Stein, Horton Foote, August Wilson, Stephen Sondheim, John Kander and Fred Ebb, Neil Simon, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Edward Albee, and Arthur Miller. 

Dramatists Guild President Amanda Green said, “Adrienne Kennedy has used her immense storytelling skill with beautifully brutal imagery to share her theatrical dreamscapes with the world. Her language inspires visions that stay with audiences for days after experiencing her work. From 1964’s Funnyhouse of a Negro to 2018’s He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box, Adrienne has inspired countless young writers by remaining true to herself and her voice, knowing that what she had to say would resonate. The Guild is thrilled to be presenting Adrienne with this long overdue recognition of her gifts and her longtime commitment to the Guild.”

Lloyd Suh, chair of the Guild’s Awards committee, said “This award is the Dramatists Guild’s highest distinction, and is bestowed upon a writer entirely by other writers. On behalf of the Guild’s Awards committee, it is our honor to celebrate the indelible and extraordinary impact of Adrienne Kennedy and her work, not only to the art of playwriting, but to all of us in the community of American dramatists.” 

Joey Stocks, the Guild’s Director of Publications, shared, “One of my many gifts of working at the Guild is getting email from Adrienne Kennedy. From remarks on my bowtie-wearing period (“You look like Thackeray.”) to asking my opinion about a production of Funnyhouse of a Negro, I’ve saved them all. She was one of the first people who let me know that, as editor of The Dramatist, my work was truly being seen. She’s not only a literary and theatrical treasure, she’s also an exemplary human being. Thanks to Adrienne for a lifetime of achievement and thanks for being my pen pal.” 

Award-winning playwright, lecturer, and author Adrienne Kennedy was born in Pittsburgh in 1931 and attended Ohio State University. Her plays include Funnyhouse of a Negro (Obie Award, Petit Odeon directed by Jean Marie Serreau), June and Jean in Concert (Obie Award), Sun (Commissioned by Royal Court London), A Movie Star Has to Star in Black and White, Mom, How Did You Meet The Beatles?, A Rat's Mass, The Owl Answers, Motherhood 2000, Electra and Orestes (adaptation), She Talks to Beethoven, An Evening with Dead Essex, A Lesson in a Dead Language and The Lennon Play. She is the recipient of an Obie Award for Sleep Deprivation Chamber, which she co-authored with her son Adam. It premiered at the Public Theater and was produced by Signature Theatre Company, which devoted an entire season to Ms. Kennedy’s work. 

Other awards include a Guggenheim Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Lifetime Achievement, the Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Literature, the American Book Award for 1990, and induction into the Theater Hall of Fame. 

Her published works include Heart in a Box in Spring 2021 with the Modern Language Association, In One Act, Alexander Plays, and Deadly Triplets, all published by University of Minnesota Press, and People Who Led to My Plays (a memoir), originally published by Knopf and now in paperback by Theatre Communications Group, which also published He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box and Other Plays. Her plays are taught in colleges throughout the country, in Europe, India, and Africa. 

She has been a visiting lecturer at Yale University, New York University, and University of California at Berkeley, where she was Chancellor’s Distinguished Lecturer in 1980 and 1986. She was also commissioned to write plays for Jerome Robbins, the Public Theater, Mark Taper Forum, Juilliard School and the Royal Court in England. She was a distinguished Hutchins Fellow in 2016-2017. Ms. Kennedy lived for over 50 years on her beloved Upper West Side of Manhattan, and has also lived in Africa, Italy, and London, and taught in Harvard University's English Department for six semesters. In 2018, Ms. Kennedy was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame for Lifetime Achievement in the American theatre.

Read Ten Questions with Adrienne Kennedy