Lynn Nottage

Lynn Nottage (born November 2, 1964) is an American playwright whose work often deals with the lives of marginalized people. She is a professor of Playwriting at Columbia University.

Lynn Nottage
Born (1964-11-02) November 2, 1964
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
OccupationPlaywright, Professor
EducationBrown University (BA)
Yale University (MFA)
Notable awardsPulitzer Prize for Drama (2009, 2017)
Obie Award
SpouseTony Gerber

She was the first (and remains the only) woman to have won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama twice; the first in 2009 for Ruined, and the second in 2017 for Sweat.


Lynn Nottage was born in Brooklyn, New York; her mother Ruby Nottage was a schoolteacher and principal; her father Wallace was a child psychologist. She went to Saint Ann's School for elementary school, and graduated from Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School.[1] While in high school, she wrote her first full-length play, The Darker Side of Verona, about an African-American Shakespeare company traveling through the south.

She attended Brown University (BA 1986, DFA 2011) and the Yale School of Drama (MFA, 1989). After graduation, Nottage worked in Amnesty International's press office for four years.[2] Most recently, Nottage received honorary degrees from Juilliard and Albright College.

Nottage is married to filmmaker Tony Gerber, with whom she has two children, Ruby Aiyo and Melkamu Gerber.


Nottage's plays have been produced widely in the United States and throughout the world.


Intimate Apparel

One of her best-known plays is Intimate Apparel.

In 1905 New York, Esther, a Black seamstress, lives in a boarding house for women, and sews intimate apparel for clients who range from wealthy white patrons to prostitutes. One by one, the other denizens of the boarding house marry and move away, but Esther remains, lonely and longing for a husband and a future. Her plan is to find the right man and use the money she's saved to open a beauty parlor where black women will be treated as royally as the white women she sews for.

Co-commissioned and produced at Baltimore's Center Stage, it premiered in February 2003[3] and South Coast Repertory.[4] The Off-Broadway production at Roundabout Theatre Company opened in 2004, starring Viola Davis, and receiving critical acclaim. It received the 2004 AUDELCO Viv Award for Playwriting; AUDELCO (Audience Development Committee) recognizes and honors excellence in Black theatre. Intimate Apparel has since been commissioned by the MET / Lincoln Center to be adapted into an opera, and will be composed by Ricky Ian Gordon.

Since 2004, Intimate Apparel has become one of the most produced plays in America.


Ruined dramatizes the plight of Congolese women surviving civil war. Set in a small mining town in Democratic Republic of Congo, Ruined follows Mama Nadi, a shrewd businesswoman protecting and profiting from the women she shelters.

It premiered in 2007 in the Goodman Theatre (Chicago) New Stages Series,[5] and transferred to Off-Broadway at the Manhattan Theatre Club in February 2009.[6] Ruined was awarded the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Ruined also received the 2009 AUDELCO Viv Award for Dramatic Production of the Year.

On May 13, 2009, Nottage spoke at a public reception in Washington, D.C. following a United States Senate Foreign Relations joint subcommittee hearing entitled "Confronting Rape and Other Forms of Violence Against Women in Conflict Zones," with case studies on the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan.[7]

On October 12, 2009, Nottage spoke at the United Nations as part of the Exhibit CONGO/WOMEN Portraits of War: The Democratic Republic of Congo.

By the Way, Meet Vera Stark

By the Way, Meet Vera Stark is a seventy-year journey through the life of Vera Stark, a headstrong African-American maid and budding actress, and her tangled relationship with her boss, a white Hollywood star desperately grasping to hold on to her career. When both women land roles in the same Southern epic, the story behind the camera leaves Vera with a surprising and controversial legacy.

It premiered Off-Broadway at Second Stage Theatre on May 9, 2011, with direction by Jo Bonney.[8] The play is a "funny and irreverent look at racial stereotypes in Hollywood."[9] The play was nominated for the 2012 Drama Desk Award, Outstanding Play.[10] The play ran at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles in September 2012, starring Sanaa Lathan, who played the role of the maid who becomes a stage star.[11]


Sweat tells the story of a group of friends who have spent their lives sharing drinks, secrets, and laughs while working together on the factory floor. But when layoffs and picket lines begin to chip away at their trust, the friends find themselves pitted against each other in a heart-wrenching fight to stay afloat.

She received a commission from Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the Arena Stage. The play that she wrote as a result, Sweat, was presented at the festival in Ashland, Oregon from July 29, 2015, to October 31, 2015, directed by Kate Whoriskey.[12][13] The play takes place in Reading, Pennsylvania, and involves steel workers who have been locked out of their factory workplace.[14] The play was produced at the Arena Stage (Washington, D.C.) from January 15 to February 21, 2016, directed by Whoriskey.[15] Nottage won the 2015–16 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for this play.[16][17][18][19] Sweat premiered Off-Broadway at the Public Theater on October 18, 2016 (previews), officially on November 3, again directed by Whoriskey. Here, the play was awarded the 2017 Obie Award for Playwriting.[20] The play closed on December 18, 2016.[21][22][23] Sweat opened on Broadway at Studio 54 on March 4, 2017 in previews, officially on March 26. This marks Nottage's Broadway debut.[24][25]

Sweat was a finalist for the 2016 Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama.[26][27] Sweat was again a finalist for the 2017 Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History. The award is administered by Columbia University.[28][29] The play won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Other plays

Her short play Poof! (Heideman Award) was presented in 1993 at the Actors Theatre Of Louisville during the Humana Festival of New American Plays.[30][31] It was then broadcast on PBS in 2002, with a cast that featured Rosie Perez and Viola Davis.[32][33]

Her political satire Por'Knockers premiered in 1995 at the Vineyard Theatre, directed by Michael Rogers, featuring Sanaa Lathan.

The West Coast premiere of her Crumbs from the Table of Joy, at South Coast Repertory in September 1996,[34] earned two NAACP Theatre Awards for performance.

Mud, River, Stone premiered in 1996 at The Acting Company directed by Seret Scott; it premiered in New York in 1997 at Playwrights Horizons, directed by Roger Rees. It was a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Award, and won numerous regional theatre awards.

Las Meninas premiered in 2002 at San Jose Rep, directed by Michael Edwards. It was awarded a Rockefeller Grant, as well as the AT&T OnStage Award. It follows the true story of Queen Maria Theresa of Spain (wife of Louis XIV) and her affair with her African servant, Nabo, a dwarf from Dahomey.

Obie Award-winning Fabulation, or the Re-Education of Undine (her companion piece to Intimate Apparel, set one hundred years later), opened Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons in June 2004.[35]

Her play Mlima's Tale premiered Off-Broadway at The Public Theater on March 27, 2018, in previews, officially on April 15 in a limited engagement to May 20. Direction is by Jo Bonney. The play concerns an elephant, Mlima, "trapped inside the clandestine international ivory market". Sahr Ngaujah plays Mlima.[36][37] Mlima's Tale was nominated for the 2018 Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play, Outstanding Lighting Design (Play or Musical) (Lap Chi Chu) and Outstanding Sound Design (Play or Musical) (Darron L. West).[38] The play was nominated for the 2019 Lucille Lortel Awards for Outstanding Play, Outstanding Director (Bonney), Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play (Sahr Ngaujah), Outstanding Costume Design (Jennifer Moeller) and Outstanding Lighting Design (Lap Chi Chu).[39]

Nottage wrote the book for the world premiere musical adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd's novel The Secret Life of Bees, with music by Duncan Sheik and lyrics by Susan Birkenhead. It premieres at the Off-Broadway Atlantic Theater Company on May 12, 2019 in previews. The musical is directed by Sam Gold and features Saycon Sengbloh as Rosaleen, Elizabeth Teeter as Lily, LaChanze, Eisa Davis and Anastacia McCleskey.[40] The musical had a workshop at the Vassar Powerhouse Theater, Martel Theatre in July 2017, directed by Sam Gold.[41][42]

Other work

Nottage wrote a monologue, The Grey Rooster, following a former slave and his slaveholder's cockfighting rooster in post-Civil War Kentucky. It was performed as part of the National Civil War Project's production Our War, produced in 2014 at Arena Stage, directed by Anita Maynard-Losh.

Nottage contributed to the "dance-theatre musical" written Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens titled In Your Arms which premiered at the Old Globe Theatre, San Diego, in September 2015. The piece consists of ten vignettes and was directed and choreographed by Christopher Gattelli. Her vignette is titled A Wedding Dance and was performed by Marija Juliette Abney and Adesola Osakalumi with The Company.[43]

Nottage wrote the book for a planned Michael Jackson jukebox musical, MJ: The Musical (originally titled Don't Stop Til You Get Enough), aiming to premiere on Broadway in 2020. In March 2019, HBO aired the documentary Leaving Neverland, detailing the accounts of alleged victims of sexual abuse by Michael Jackson.[44][45] It was initially unclear if the recast light on Michael Jackson's career would affect the launch of the show.

This is Reading

Nottage co-conceived This is Reading, an immersive transmedia project exploring the decline and rebirth of Reading, Pennsylvania: the setting of Nottage's play Sweat. This site-specific multimedia installation blended live performance and visual media, occupying the Franklin Street Railroad Station in Downtown Reading in May 2017, re-animating the long vacant building. Using as its foundation, the hardships, challenges, and triumphs of people living in and around Reading, This is Reading weaved individual stories into one cohesive tale of the city. It was produced in association with Market Road Films, the Labyrinth Theater Company and Project&.

This Is Reading was conceived by Nottage, and co-created by an award-winning team of artists, including filmmaker Tony Gerber, director Kate Whoriskey and Choreographer Rennie Harris. The creative team included composer Kashaka, projection designer Jeff Sugg, set designer Deb O, costume designer Jennifer Moeller, lighting designer Amith Chandrashaker, sound designer Nick Kourtides, muralist Katie Merz and producers Jane M. Saks, Blake Ashman-Kipervaser, Allison Bressi and Santo D. Marabella.

Market Road Films

She is the co-founder of a production company, Market Road Films, whose most recent projects include The Notorious Mr. Bout, directed by Tony Gerber and Maxim Pozdorovkin (Premiere/Sundance 2014); First to Fall, directed by Rachel Beth Anderson (Premiere/ IDFA, 2013); and Remote Control (Premiere/Busan 2013–New Currents Award).

Over the years, she has developed original projects for HBO, Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, Showtime, This is That, and Harpo Productions.[46]

Film and television

Nottage was a producer and writer for the first season of She's Gotta Have It.


The Guardian noted: "Nottage's two decades of work has garnered praise for bringing challenging and often forgotten, stories onto the stage. ... Ruined explored the use of rape as a weapon against women in the Democratic Republic of Congo, while Intimate Apparel focused on a lonely black seamstress working in New York in 1905... Future areas the 51-year-old is keen to explore in her plays includes the American prison industrial complex, which is "destroying the lives of so many men of colour" but is barely talked about in the national conversation or on the stage. Yet Nottage also expressed disappointment that her work was constantly defined by both her own race and gender, unlike her white male counterparts."[47]


Full-length plays

Other works

  • Poof (1993)[52] – short play
  • Our War (2014)[53] – contributed material
  • In Your Arms (2015) – contributed material
  • This Is Reading (2017) – co-conceived / multimedia installation
  • The Secret Life of Bees (2019) – wrote libretto

Awards and nominations



Other awards

  • 2018 Induction into the American Academy of Arts and Letters
  • 2017 Induction into The American Academy of Arts and Science
  • 2017 Award of Merit, American Academy of Arts and Letters to "an outstanding playwright for her body of work"
  • 2017 AUDELCO Award for Outstanding Achievement
  • 2017 Lucille Lortel Sidewalk Star
  • 2016 PEN/Laura Pels "Master American Dramatist" Award
  • 2016 Literature Award from The Academy of Arts and Letters
  • 2016 Columbia University Provost Grant
  • 2016 Doris Duke Artist Award, 2016
  • 2013 Madge Evans-Sidney Kingsley Award
  • 2012 Nelson A. Rockefeller Award For Creativity
  • 2010 Steinberg "Distinguished Playwright" Award
  • 2010 Horton Foote Award
  • 2007 MacArthur "Genius Grant" Fellowship
  • 2005 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship for Drama and Performance Art
  • 2004 PEN/Laura Pels "Mid-Career Playwright" Award
  • 2000 & 1994 New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship
  • 1994 Van Lier Playwright Fellowship
  • National Black Theatre Festival August Wilson Playwriting Award

Fellowships, commissions, and residencies


  1. Kilian, Michael. "Playwright tells intimate tales: Lynn Nottage wrote 2 works simultaneously", Chicago Tribune, June 17, 2004.
  2. Michel Martin (September 25, 2007). Tell Me More (mpeg) (Radio broadcast). NPR.
  3. Simonson, Robert. "Baltimore's Center Stage Presents New Lynn Nottage Play, 'Intimate Apparel', Feb. 26",, February 8, 2003.
  4. Intimate Apparel,, Retrieved November 17, 2017.
  5. "'Ruined' Goodman Theatre",, Retrieved November 17, 2017.
  6. Jones, Kenneth."Pulitzer Winner 'Ruined' Gets Six Extra Weeks at MTC" Archived August 17, 2009, at the Wayback Machine,, April 30, 2009.
  7. Patrick Healy. "Women of ‘Ruined’ to Speak in Washington About Rape", The New York Times, May 12, 2009.
  8. Brantley, Ben (May 9, 2011). "A Black Actress Trying to Rise Above a Maid". The New York Times. Retrieved November 6, 2011.
  9. Jones, Kenneth. "Nottage's 'By the Way, Meet Vera Stark' Gets Extra Week at Off-Broadway's Second Stage",, April 27, 2011.
  10. Gans, Andrew. "Drama Desk Nominations Announced; 'Death Takes a Holiday' and 'Follies' Lead the Pack",, April 27, 2012.
  11. Jones, Kenneth. "Vera Stark, Ready for Her L.A. Close-Up, Opens Sept. 26; Sanaa Lathan Stars",, September 26, 2012.
  12. Weinerdt-Kent, Rob. "How Lynn Nottage, Inveterate Wanderer, Found Her Way to Reading and ‘Sweat’",, July 10, 2015.
  13. Sweat,, accessed August 25, 2015.
  14. Scott, Aaron. "Oregon Shakespeare Festival Sweats America's De-Industrialization With New Play",, July 30, 2015.
  15. "Press Release. Sweat" Archived February 1, 2016, at the Wayback Machine, December 2, 2015.
  16. Gordon, David. "Lynn Nottage Receives 2016 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize",, February 22, 2016.
  17. Editors. "Susan Smith Blackburn Prize Announces 2015–16 Finalists", American Theatre, January 26, 2016.
  18. Clement, Olivia. "Susan Smith Blackburn Prize Finalists Announced",, January 27, 2016.
  19. "Sweat" by Lynn Nottage Wins 2016 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize", accessed February 22, 2016.
  20. Obie Awards, 2017 Winners.
  21. Clement, Olivia. "David Byrne, Harvey Fierstein, Nia Vardalos and Lynn Nottage Tapped For Public Season", Playbill, May 19, 2016.
  22. Rickwald, Bethany. "Miriam Shor, John Earl Jelks, and More Cast in Lynn Nottage's 'Sweat'",, September 13, 2016.
  23. Clement, Olivia, "Lynn Nottage’s 'Sweat' Opens at The Public Tonight" Playbill, November 3, 2016
  24. Clement, Olivia. "Lynn Nottage to Make Broadway Debut with Transfer of 'Sweat'", Playbill, December 5, 2016.
  25. Clement, Olivia. " 'Sweat' Begins on Broadway", Playbill, March 4, 2017.
  26. "Finalists Announced for 2016 Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired By American History", January 27, 2016, accessed January 28, 2016
  27. Viagas, Robert. "Kennedy Prize for Drama Goes to 'Hamilton'", Playbill, February 22, 2016.
  28. " 'Sweat', 'Indecent' and 'Vietgone' Among Finalists for 2017 Edward M. Kennedy Prize", January 13, 2017
  29. "Winner of the 2017 Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History Announced",, February 27, 2017.
  30. "Lynn Nottage at Doollee", accessed February 24, 2016.
  31. Nottage, Lynn. Poof!, "'Crumbs from the Table of Joy' and Other Plays", Theatre Communications Group, 2003, ISBN 1559367075, p. 89.
  32. "'Poof!' Overview and Cast",, accessed February 24, 2016.
  33. Gans, Andrew. "Nottage's "Poof!" to Be Part of PBS' American Shorts Series", Playbill, July 29, 2001.
  34. Nottage, Lynn. "Introduction" Crumbs from the Table of Joy, Dramatists Play Service Inc, 1998, ISBN 0822215721, p. 3.
  35. Jones, Kenneth. "Lynn Nottage's 'Fabulation' Gets World Premiere at Playwrights Horizons, Opening June 13", Playbill, June 13, 2004.
  36. Clement, Olivia. "Lynn Nottage’s 'Mlima’s Tale' Finds its Cast at The Public", Playbill, February 8, 2018.
  37. Clement, Olivia. "Lynn Nottage’s 'Mlima’s Tale' Opens Off-Broadway" Playbill, April 15, 2018.
  38. Clement, Olivia. " 'SpongeBob SquarePants' Leads Outer Critics Circle Nominations", Playbill, April 24, 2018.
  39. Gans, Andrew. "Nominations for 34th Annual Lucille Lortel Awards Announced; 'Carmen Jones' and 'Rags Parkland Sings the Songs of the Future Lead the Pack'" playbill, April 3, 2019
  40. Clement, Olivia. "New Musical Adaptation of 'The Secret Life of Bees' Begins Off-Broadway May 12" Playbill, May 12, 2019
  41. The Secret Life Of Bees, retrieved May 12, 2019
  42. Gans, Andrew. "Orange Is the New Black's Uzo Aduba Stars in 'Secret Life of Bees' Musical Workshop, Beginning July 27" Playbill, July 27, 2017
  43. Viagas, Robert, "The Verdict: Critics Review 'In Your Arms', With Donna McKechnie, at Old Globe", Playbill, September 28, 2015.
  46. Jim Lehrer (June 15, 2009). NewsHour with Jim Lehrer (mpeg) (Television production). PBS.
  47. Ellis-Petersen, Hannah, "Playwright Lynn Nottage: theatre is the last bastion of segregation", The Guardian, February 22, 2016.
  48. Por'Knockers,, accessed November 6, 2016.
  49. Daniels, Robert L. "Review. 'Mud, River, Stone'", Variety, December 21, 1997.
  50. Ehren, Christine. "Forbidden Love Reigns in San Jose With Nottage's 'Las Meninas' March 16-April 14", Playbill, March 14, 2002.
  51. Manohla Dargis. "Just a Maid in Movies, but Not Forgotten", The New York Times, April 21, 2011.
  52. Poof,, accessed November 6, 2016.
  53. Perry, Jennifer. "BWW Reviews: Arena Stage's 'Our War' - Nothing if Not Ambitious",, October 27, 2014.
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