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Eight Female Playwrights to Celebrate International Women’s Day

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Northwestern chapter.

Women’s History Month marks a period to celebrate the accomplishments and contributions of women to society. In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8th, I want to highlight eight of my favorite contemporary female playwrights. They’ve written plays that everyone should read, dealing with themes of friendship, race, competition, womanhood and growing up — to name a few.

  1. Jiehae Park  

Jiehae Park recently produced peerless at Northwestern’s Wirtz Center. The play follows twin sisters who reveal their dark side as they do whatever it takes to get into “The College.” This clever, dark-comedy adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth is Park’s most successful play to date. It has only five characters and was written to be performed with a music-like rhythm, in which the twins finish each other’s sentences. The Korean-American Park wrote peerless specifically to feature two Asian-American girls as the twins M and L, as well as a Black male as BF. Prior to peerless, Park worked on three other plays, including her second-most popular: Hannah and the Dread Gazebo. She has also written for Marvel’s Runaways.

  1. Sarah DeLappe  

Sarah DeLappe has only one play — The Wolves — but it has gained a lot of praise since its publication in 2016. This is largely due to the play’s relatability; the plots is build around the conversations a team of teenage soccer players have during their warmup. Non-traditional overlapping of informal dialogue makes for an interesting, thought-provoking experience. Although the all-female cast are referred to by their jersey number instead of their name, the individual personality of each girl is immediately clear. While studying at Yale University, DeLappe took a playwriting class which empowered her to write the characters that had been lacking for her onstage. The play was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and was a New York Times Critic’s Pick.

  1. Sarah Treem

Sarah Treem is a Golden Globe Award winning writer who has published eight plays. She has also written for Showtime’s The Affair, Netflix’s House of Cards and HBO’s In Treatment. Her two most popular plays are A Feminine Ending and Mirror, Mirror. The first is a feminist play about life, love, and “learning to trust a woman’s voice in a man’s world,” according to its synopsis on Concord Theatricals. The latter is a dark comedy based on Snow White, set in a high school. Treem has also written about female topics such as menstruation, menopause, and motherhood. Early in her career, she was urged by producers not to write about such topics, however she persisted and became the accomplished playwright she is today. 

  1. Dominique Morisseau

Dominique Morisseau authored nine plays and is a recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship, aka the “Genius Grant”. She was also on the list of Top 20 Most Produced Playwrights in America in 2015–16, with 10 productions of her plays produced nationwide. In addition, she is a recipient of the NAACP Image Award, which celebrates the outstanding achievements and performances of people of color in the arts, as well as those individuals or groups who promote social justice through their creative endeavors. She is best known for writing a three-play cycle entitled The Detroit Projects, which includes the plays Detroit ‘67, Paradise Blue, and Skeleton Crew (the latter of which is my personal favorite of the three). The plays center around those in the working class dealing with racial tensions and economic instability. In the musical theater realm, Morisseau secured a Tony Award nomination for Best Book of a Musical for her work on the Broadway musical Ain’t Too Proud.  

  1. Sarah Ruhl

Next, I’m highlighting the third Sarah and second MacArthur Fellowship recipient, Pulitzer Prize Finalist, and Tony Nominee thus far on this list. In all seriousness, what sets Ruhl apart is the fact that she has written almost twenty plays along with her memoir, Smile, which discusses her struggle with Bell’s palsy and is filled with humor, hope, and healing. She is likely best known for writing Eurydice and In the Next Room (or the vibrator play), however, her play Late: A Cowboy Song will be produced at Northwestern University this spring. Her plays have been produced on Broadway and translated into fourteen languages. She is also currently a professor at the Yale School of Drama. 

  1. Lorraine Hansberry 

Although Lorraine Hansberry only lived for 34 years, she had quite the impact on the theater industry. The Chicago-born playwright was the granddaughter of a freed slave and was heavily involved in the Civil Rights movement. She was the first Black woman to have a play produced on Broadway and the youngest American to win a New York Critics’ Circle award. Her most famous play, entitled A Raisin in the Sun, follows a Black family struggling with segregation and redlining, which reflects what her family faced in Chicago. In fact, A Raisin in the Sun was so controversial that her family’s case (Hansberry v. Lee) made it to the Supreme Court. Aside from the original Broadway production, this play has appeared on London’s West End, in two different film adaptations and in two Broadway revivals. Collectively, her play won five Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Play. 

  1. Lynn Nottage

Lynn Nottage has been celebrated for her ability to write scripts with complicated characters and that address deep social truths. Many of her plays reflect her own, personal experiences as a Black woman. Nottage is the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama twice — first for Ruined, and later, for Sweat. These and Intimate Apparel remain her most famous three plays although she has written 11 to date. Nottage has been widely celebrated for her work, and her plays continue to be produced worldwide. Her most recent project is writing the libretto for Broadway’s MJ: The Musical: a jukebox musical featuring the music of Michael Jackson. 

  1. Paula Vogel

Paula Vogel is the Pulitzer-prize winning author of 11 plays, including The Baltimore Waltz that will be performed at Northwestern this spring. Her most famous play is Broadway’s How How I Learned to Drive, which addresses sexual violence between a woman and her uncle. She is not known to shy away from controversial issues like abuse and the AIDS crisis. Her other Broadway play, Indecent, won two Tony Awards. Her plays have been produced by many popular regional theaters and in over twenty-eight countries. They have even been translated into multiple languages. She has also been inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame, with three existing awards given in her name. Aside from these many accomplishments, Vogel has mentored and taught two playwrights mentioned above: Lynn Nottage and Sarah Ruhl. 

These award-winning women have expanded on the idea of what modern plays should contain and helped structure the theater industry to become what it is today. Their plays, especially the ones I’ve highlighted here, are essential reads even if you do not consider yourself a huge fan of theater. Theater exposes us to aspects of the human experience that are different from our own, which is why I’m especially excited to highlight Asian-American, African-American and LGBTQ+ playwrights. It is imperative to share diverse stories and perspectives — they help us become more empathetic, enriched and learned individuals.

Maya Slaughter

Northwestern '25

Maya Slaughter is a Northwestern University theatre major from New Jersey. When not performing or writing, you can find her cooking, riding Peloton, rewatching New Girl, taking pictures of her friends in 0.5x, and drinking iced coffee.