Erika Dickerson-Despenza to Receive 2023 PEN America Literary Award
Photo of Erika Dickerson-Despenza
Erika Dickerson-Despenza - photo by Joey Stocks for The Dramatist

New York, NY – PEN America has announced Erika Dickerson-Despenza (cullud wattah, [hieroglyph]) as the recipient of the 2023 PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award. The award will be presented at the 59th Annual PEN Literary Awards, March 2 at The Town Hall, New York, NY.

The PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award honors a mid-career playwright with an outstanding voice. The award’s judges, Luis Alfaro and Saheem Ali, selected Dickerson-Despenza for her “powerful” (New York Times), “devastating” (Time Out), “potent,” and “rich” (Chicago Tribune) work. Dickerson-Despenza’s latest play shadow/land, which will have its world premiere at The Public Theater in April 2023, begins her ten-play Katrina Cycle. Like her acclaimed work Cullud Wattah, the Katrina Cycle explores the intersecting American injustices exposed and exacerbated by an environmental crisis. Recent winners of this prize include Larissa FastHorse, Tanya Barfield, Daniel Alexander Jones, and Jackie Sibblies Drury.

Erika Dickerson-Despenza is a New Orleans-based Blk radical leftist writer and ecowomanist cultural-memory worker. She is the creator and inaugural resident of The Ntozake Shange Social Justice Playwriting Residency, which supports distinguished women, femme, and non-binary scholar-playwrights of the African Diaspora for two-year terms. Her work includes shadow/land (The Public Theater, 2023), cullud wattah (The Public Theater, 2021), and [hieroglyph] (San Francisco Playhouse/Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 2021). Currently, Erika is developing a ten-play Katrina Cycle, which centers climate crisis-induced and state-sanctioned water vulnerabilities and displacement rippling in and beyond New Orleans and the Midwest, a Disney musical adaptation of a New York Times #1 bestselling YA novel, and an original feature film with Mattel.