Here Are The Winners Of The 2021 Whiting Awards

This year's winners include a playwright and showrunner, a professor of planetary science, and one of most promising African writers under 40.

Every year since 1985, the Whiting Foundation has awarded 10 emerging writers of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama with $50,000 each. Previous recipients of a Whiting Award include Colson Whitehead (2000), Alexander Chee (2003), Terese Marie Mailhot (2019), and Jia Tolentino (2020).

This year's winners were announced on April 14 via a virtual ceremony and on Twitter and Facebook. Here they are!

Joshua Bennett, for poetry and nonfiction

Joshua Bennett is the author of three books of poetry and literary criticism: The Sobbing School (Penguin, 2016), Owed (Penguin, 2020), and Being Property Once Myself (Harvard University Press, 2020), which was a winner of the Thomas J. Wilson Memorial Prize. He is the Mellon assistant professor of English and creative writing at Dartmouth College. Bennett holds a PhD in English from Princeton University and a master's in theater and performance studies from the University of Warwick, where he was a Marshall scholar. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, MIT, the Ford Foundation, and the Society of Fellows at Harvard University. His writing has appeared in the Nation, the New York Times, the Paris Review, Poetry, and elsewhere. His next book of creative nonfiction, Spoken Word: A Cultural History, is forthcoming from Knopf.

Jordan E. Cooper, for drama

Jordan E. Cooper is an OBIE Award–winning playwright and performer who was most recently chosen to be one of Out magazine’s Entertainer of the Year. Last spring, he had a sold-out run of his play Ain’t No Mo’, a New York Times critic's pick. Jordan created a pandemic-centered short film called Mama Got a Cough that’s been featured in National Geographic and was named the best Of 2020 by the New York Times. He is currently filming The Ms. Pat Show, an R-rated old-school sitcom he created for BET+, which will debut later this year. He can also be seen as Tyrone in the final season of FX’s Pose.

Steven Dunn, for fiction

Steven Dunn, aka Pot Hole (cuz he’s deep in these streets), is the author of two novels from Tarpaulin Sky Press: Potted Meat (2016) and Water & Power (2018). Potted Meat was a finalist for the Colorado Book Award, shortlisted for Granta magazine’s Best of Young American Novelists list, and adapted to a short film by Foothills Productions. The Usual Route, based on Potted Meat, has played at LA International Film Festival, Houston International Film Festival, and others. He was born and raised in West Virginia and teaches in the MFA programs at Regis University and Cornell College.

Tope Folarin, for fiction

Tope Folarin is a Nigerian American writer based in Washington, DC. He won the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2013 and was shortlisted once again in 2016. He was also named to the Africa39 list of the most promising African writers under 40 in 2019. He was educated at Morehouse College and the University of Oxford, where he earned two master's degrees as a Rhodes scholar. A Particular Kind of Black Man is his first book.

Donnetta Lavinia Grays, for drama

Donnetta Lavinia Grays is a Brooklyn-based playwright who proudly hails from Columbia, South Carolina. Her plays include Where We Stand, Warriors Don’t Cry, Last Night and the Night Before, Laid to Rest, The Review or How to Eat Your Opposition, The New Normal, and The Cowboy Is Dying. Donnetta is a nominee for Lucille Lortel, Drama League, and AUDELCO awards. She is the recipient of the Helen Merrill Playwrighting Award, the National Theater Conference Barrie and Bernice Stavis Playwright Award, the Lilly Award, the Todd McNerney National Playwriting Award, and is the inaugural recipient of the Doric Wilson Independent Playwright Award. She is currently under commission from Steppenwolf, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, WP Theater, and True Love Productions.

Sarah Stewart Johnson, for nonfiction

Sarah Stewart Johnson is an assistant associate professor of planetary science at Georgetown University. A former Rhodes scholar and White House fellow, she received her PhD from MIT and has worked on NASA’s Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity rovers. She is also a visiting scientist with the Planetary Environments Lab at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Sylvia Khoury, for drama

Sylvia Khoury is a New York–born writer of French and Lebanese descent. Her plays include Selling Kabul (Playwrights Horizons, Williamstown Theatre Festival), Power Strip (LCT3), Against the Hillside (Ensemble Studio Theatre), and The Place Women Go. She is currently under commission from Lincoln Center, Williamstown Theatre Festival, and Seattle Repertory Theatre. Accolades include the L. Arnold Weissberger Award and Jay Harris Commission and a Citation of Excellence from the Laurents/Hatcher Awards. She is a member of EST/ Youngblood and a previous member of the 2018–2019 Rita Goldberg Playwrights’ Workshop at the Lark and the 2016–2018 WP Lab. Her plays have been developed at Playwrights Horizons, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Eugene O’Neill Playwrights’ Conference, Roundabout Underground, Lark Playwrights’ Week, EST/Youngblood, and WP Theater. She holds a bachelor's degree from Columbia University and an MFA from the School of Drama at the New School. She will obtain her MD from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in May 2021.

Marwa Helal, for poetry

Marwa Helal is the author of Invasive Species (Nightboat Books, 2019), Ante Body (Nightboat Books, forthcoming in 2022), and winner of Bomb magazine’s Biennial 2016 Poetry Contest. She is also the author of the chapbook I Am Made to Leave I Am Made to Return (No, Dear/Small Anchor Press, 2017) and has been awarded fellowships from the Jerome Foundation, NYFA/NYSCA, Poets House, and Cave Canem, among others. Born in Al Mansurah, Egypt, she currently lives in Brooklyn.

Ladan Osman, for poetry

Ladan Osman is the author of Exiles of Eden (Coffee House Press, 2019), winner of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and The Kitchen-Dweller’s Testimony (University of Nebraska Press, 2015), winner of the Sillerman Prize. She has received fellowships from the Lannan Foundation, Cave Canem, the Michener Center, and the Fine Arts Work Center. Osman’s first short film (which she codirected), Sam, Underground, profiled Sam Diaz, a teenage busker who would become the winner of American Idol's 18th season. She was the writer for Sun of the Soil, a short documentary on the complicated legacy of Malian emperor Mansa Musa. It was selected for inclusion in the Cannes International PanAfrican Film Festival and the New York African Film Festival. Osman’s directorial debut, The Ascendants, is streaming now on Topic. She lives in New York.

Xandria Phillips, for poetry

Xandria Phillips is a poet and visual artist from rural Ohio. The recipient of the Judith A. Markowitz Award for emerging writers, Xandria has received fellowships from Oberlin College, Cave Canem, Callaloo, the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, and the Brown University Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, where they are researching and composing a project book of poems and paintings that explore Black feeling and materiality. Their poetry has been published in American Poetry Review,, Black Warrior Review, Crazyhorse, and elsewhere. Their chapbook Reasons for Smoking won the 2016 Seattle Review chapbook contest judged by Claudia Rankine. Hull, the recipient of a Lambda Literary Award, is their first book. They are working on a nonfiction manuscript titled Presenting as Blue/Aspiring to Green about color theory, gender, and modes of making.

Topics in this article

Skip to footer