a.k. payne named as recipient of the Kemp Powers Commission Fund for Black Playwrights at City Theatre


Last updated 9/16/2022 at 12:42pm

a.k. payne

City Theatre has announced the second artist selected for support for the Kemp Powers Commission Fund for Black Playwrights. The fund is made possible through the generous support of award-winning playwright Kemp Powers and offers an annual commission and development support to an early-career Black playwright.

The artist chosen for this year's commission is a.k. payne, a playwright and theatermaker with roots in Pittsburgh. As a two-time winner of City Theatre's Young Playwrights Contest (2010, 2012), a.k. is no stranger to City Theatre's stages. Their play burnbabyburn: An American Dream appeared in City Theatre's 2019 Momentum Festival: New Plays at Different Stages; and in 2020, she was one of four playwrights commissioned by City Theatre Company to create monologues inspired by the 2020 Census through support from the Census 2020 Philanthropic Fund at Grantmakers of Western, PA.

Through the Kemp Powers Commission Fund for Black Playwrights, a.k. will create a completely new piece of theatre with built-in developmental support as part of the process.

"I am so grateful for the space and time afforded by this commission to write a play in the city from which my family has been carving something of home over many generations, and in the theatre where I saw the first play I ever wrote when I was 12 years old-striving to find & remember my own voice and steeped in a deep curiosity about how to imagine worlds that might draw people together (my younger self so full of joy!)," said playwright a.k. payne. "I am always so grateful to have been honored and humbled with this work of some Black playwrights: of bearing witness, remembering, and imagining stories that embody the infinite humanity, radical refusals and spirit of joy and play towards survival that may be found in Black lives of the past, present and future."

Ty Greenwood, the inaugural recipient of the award, developed their play Dependency through the program culminating in a workshop as part of the theater's 2022 Momentum Festival.

"The Kemp Powers Commission Fund offers City Theatre a genuine opportunity to identify emerging and established Black playwrights and share in the exciting next step of their artistry," said Monteze Freeland, co-artistic Director at City Theatre. "Luckily for us, we didn't have to look far for the second recipient! a.k. payne's work has lived at City Theatre for over a decade since winning our Young Playwrights Contest twice.

"Her plays expertly illustrate the hidden gems of Black culture without trivializing our transgenerational trauma. a.k's rich writing style is imbued with poetry, nostalgia, and vibrant characters so much so that we eagerly await the poignant new work to come from one of Pittsburgh's next generations of cultural icons in the making."

a.k. payne is a playwright and theater-maker with roots in Pittsburgh by way of the Great Migration. A graduate of Pittsburgh CAPA, her plays play, love on and engage the interdependencies of Black pasts, presents and futures to find/remember language that might move us towards our collective liberation(s). She holds a B.A. in English and African-American Studies from Yale College and is currently pursuing an MFA in Playwriting from Yale School of Drama under Tarell Alvin McCraney.

Their work has been finalist for the L. Arnold Weissberger New Play Award, semifinalist for the O'Neill National Playwriting Conference and winner of the David Mark Cohen National Playwriting Award. Her plays have been workshopped with Manhattan Theater Club's Groundworks Lab, The Great Plains Theatre Conference, The New Harmony Project, and Roundabout Theater Company.

As an organizer and dreamer of Black theatre ensembles and in all their work, they strive to create abundant space for Black folks' freedom dreams, in community. In Pittsburgh, back to the early 20th century (and perhaps beyond), her people are of The Hill District, Homewood, Wilkinsburg and East Hills.


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