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30 Female Playwrights You Should Know

Female playwrights
Annie Baker. Photo Credit: Brigitte Lacombe

Throughout the years, women have written intriguing, provocative works for the stage. Composers such as Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Lambert have won Tony Awards for their musicals, whereas singer-songwriters such as Sara Bareilles and Cyndi Lauper have achieved crossover success with their musicals. With the plethora of authors in more niche circles, here’s a list of 30 more female playwrights we want you to know.

1. Annie Baker:

Baker is best known for her 2013 Pulitzer-winning Off-Broadway play “The Flick.” Aside from having written many other Off-Broadway plays, she was a MacArthur Fellow for 2017.

2. Lisa D’Amour:

D’Amour’s Off-Broadway plays include “The Cataract” and “Nita and Zita,” the latter of which won an Obie Award. Her play “Detroit” was a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize, and her Broadway play “Airline Highway” received four Tony nominations and three Drama Desk nominations.

3. Sarah DeLappe:

Her 2016 Off-Broadway play “The Wolves,” which is about a high school girls’ soccer team, was a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize. She has an MFA from Brooklyn College.

4. Margaret Edson:

Her play “Wit,” which ran Off-Broadway from 1998-2000, earned her the Pulitzer Prize, an Emmy for Outstanding Made for Television Film, and a Tony nomination for Best Revival of a Play. The Broadway production starred Cynthia Nixon, who also received a Tony nomination.

5. Liz Flahive:

A graduate from NYU Tisch, Flahive’s play “From Up Here” received nominations from Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle. She has co-produced the shows “Nurse Jackie” and “GLOW.”

6. Amy Freed

Her Off-Broadway play “Freedomland” was a finalist for the 1998 Pulitzer Prize. Another Off-Broadway play of hers, the Shakespeare-themed “The Beard of Avon,” played Off-Broadway in 2003. More recently, the San Francisco Public Library named her a Library Laureate.

7. Madeleine George:

Her 2013 Off-Broadway play “The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence” was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Along with Young Jean Lee, Anne Washburn, and Sarah Ruhl, George also co-founded the Obie-winning collective 13P. She is married to Lisa Kron, who co-wrote the musical “Fun Home.”

8. Rebecca Gilman

Her best-known works are the Off-Broadway plays “Spinning Into Butter” and “Boy Gets Girl.” The former play examines political correctness and racial identity, whereas the latter play examines power dynamics in gender relations. Another play, “A True Story of the Johnstown Flood,” was inspired by Hurricane Katrina.

9. Gina Gionfriddo:

Two of her Off-Broadway plays, “Becky Shaw” and “Rapture, Blister, Burn,” were 2009 and 2013 finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. She has also written for “Law and Order” and “Cold Case.”

10. DW Gregory

Her plays are tragicomedic examinations of American life throughout history. One of her most famous works, “Radium Girls,” is about a group of female factory workers who fall ill with radium poisoning. It is a popular choice among high schools and community theaters.

11. Danai Gurira:

You might know her as Michonne from “The Walking Dead” and as Okoye in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Gurira’s play “Eclipsed” received six Tony nominations (winning one), and her play “Familiar” won her the Sam Norkin Award from Drama Desk.

12. Leslye Headland:

Headland is known for her “Seven Deadly Plays” cycle, in which each play covers one of the seven deadly sins in Christianity. She has directed multiple films, and her Netflix series “Russian Doll,” which she created with Natasha Lyonne and Amy Poehler, premieres later this year.

13. Amy Herzog:

Her Off-Broadway play “4000 Miles” won a 2012 Obie Award and was a 2013 Pulitzer Prize finalist. Her other Off-Broadway plays, including “The Great God Plan,” Mary Jane,” and “Belleville,” each received Drama Desk nominations.

14. Quiara Alegría Hudes:

Best known for writing the book for “In the Heights,” Hudes’ Off-Broadway play “Water by the Spoonful” won her the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Her most recent musical “Miss You Like Hell,” which she wrote with Erin McKeown, played Off-Broadway last year.

15. Lucy Kirkwood:

This British playwright has found success on West End and on Broadway. Her most famous play, “The Children,” premiered in London in 2016, opened on Broadway a year later, and earned two Tony nominations.

16. Young Jean Lee

Lee has written and directed ten shows for her own non-profit theater company, of which she is the Artistic Director. Her most famous play, “Straight White Men,” made her the first Asian-American woman to have a play produced on Broadway.

17. Jennifer Maisel:

Her 2012 Off-Broadway play “The Last Seder” is about a Long Island family coming together during a difficult time. She is a lecturer at USC’s School for Dramatic Arts, and has been a Playwright in Residence for The Jewish Women’s Theatre Project.

18. Martyna Majok:

This Polish-American playwright won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for her Off-Broadway play “Cost of Living.” More recently, her play “Queens,” which is about a group of immigrant women growing in the New York borough of the same name, premiered Off-Broadway last year.

19. Lynn Nottage:

Nottage is the only woman to have won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama twice. Her most recent major play “Sweat” is about a group of factory worker friends who are pitted against each other when layoffs occur. The play received three Tony nominations in 2017.

20. Antoinette Nwandu:

Nwandu is a member of the Ars Nova Play Group, and her play “Pass Over,” which ran Off-Broadway last year, became a film for Amazon that Spike Lee directed.

21. Suzan-Lori Parks:

In 2002, her play “Topdog/Underdog” made her the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. She then was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2015 for her Off-Broadway play “Father Comes Home from the War (Parts 1, 2, and 3).” Her upcoming Off-Broadway play “White Noise” will premiere at the Public Theater in March of this year.

22. Theresa Rebeck:

Her Off-Broadway play “Omnium Gatherum,” which she wrote with Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros, was a 2004 Pulitzer Prize finalist. Rebeck has had other Broadway plays, including “Seminar” and “Dead Accounts.” Her most recent Broadway play”Bernhardt/Hamlet” is about Sarah Bernhardt’s groundbreaking performance as the iconic Shakespearean protagonist.

23. Yasmina Reza:

This French playwright has had two Broadway plays, “Art” and “God of Carnage,” which both received Tony nominations. Last year, she published a novel “Elisabeth,” which is about a woman whose curiosity and ambition turn her quaint life into a police thriller.

24. Sarah Ruhl:

Two of her plays, “The Clean House” and “In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play),” were Pulitzer Prize finalists. The latter play received three Tony nominations. More recently, her Off-Broadway play “For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday” received its New York premiere in 2017.

25. Laura Shamas:

Having earned a Ph. D. from Pacifica Graduate Institute, Shamas has written over 40 plays. She has also published “Pop Mythology,” which is an essay collection about mythology and modern life. Shamas is part-Chickasaw, and her works are featured in the Native American Women Playwrights Archive at Miami University in Ohio.

26. Lisa B. Thompson:

Thompson is a professor of African and African Diaspora Studies at UT-Austin, whose play “Single Black Female” ran Off-Broadway in 2006. She has had multiple plays receive productions throughout Texas.

27. Lucy Thurber:

Thurber is a playwright and opera librettist who has taught at NYU and Sarah Lawrence College. Her plays “Bottom of the World,” “Scarcity,” and “Tranfers” all received Off-Broadway runs during this decade.

28. Joyce Van Dyke:

Van Dyke is a lecturer at Harvard Extension School. Her play “The Women Who Mapped the Stars,” which tells of the discoveries made by five female Harvard astronomers, premiered last year in Cambridge. Her Off-Broadway play “Daybreak,” originally called “Deported,” is about the Armenian Genocide.

29. Paula Vogel:

Vogel is a playwright who was a Creative Writing Professor at Brown University for 24 years. She has written multiple Off-Broadway plays, including “How I Learned to Drive,” which received the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Her Broadway play “Indecent” won two Tony Awards in 2017.

30. Anne Washburn:

She is best known for her 2013 Off-Broadway dark comedy, “Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play.” Despite a polarized reception, the play one Drama League nomination. Washburn’s theatrical adaptation of “The Twilight Zone” is opening on West End in March.

Did we leave off your favorite female playwright? Let us know in the comments below…

Written by Joseph Kisiday

Joseph Kisiday is a 2016 graduate from Christopher Newport University, majoring in Music Composition. Joseph's love for theatre came at a young age through discovering the musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber, such as "Cats" and "The Phantom of the Opera." When he is not writing, Joseph can be found watching operas or Miyazaki films.

33 Comments

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  1. Karen Hartman, Carson Kreitzer, the entire Kilroy’s List…

    (No disrespect to the inclusion of Margaret Edson, as “Wit” is a great piece of work, but she wrote it 20 years ago and apparently has no plans to write another. To mention her at the exclusion of a myriad other active playwrights is … too bad.)

  2. Martyna Majok, whose Cost of Living won the 2018 Pulitzer and two Lucille Lortel awards. Ironboind is another of her phenenal plays.

  3. These are all brilliant, smart writers. Mona Mansour, a Lebanese/Norwegian American playwright (Urge for Going, The Hour of Feeling & The Way West) is a burgeoning voice & definitely someone whose work should be known.

  4. Cheri Magid should be added to this list. She’s the first Susan Stroman Playwright in Residence at the University of Delaware with her play The Virtue of Raw Oysters.

    She has also been an artist in residence at Sewanee University of the South multiple times.

    (And yes, Jennifer Maisel is awesome!)

  5. Lina Patel should also be included. She received the Cherry Lane Theatre Mentor Project Fellowship as well as an NEA Art Works Grant. She also completed the Warner Brothers Writers Workshop Program and has a flourishing career writing for television as well.

  6. Marina Carr Irish Playwrite.
    Won lots of awards but more importantly, considered Ireland’s greatest female playwrite. In my opinion, greatest playwrite regardless of her gender.

  7. Look for Karen Schaeffer! She wrote her first farce, GIRLS’ WEEKEND, at age 49. She managed to get it produced by 4 different theatres before Dramatic Publishing picked it up and landed it in many others in the last year. How many female playwrights write their first play at age 49 (a farce, no less), get it produced and then published? And she has written a body of work since. (Full disclosure – I’m her husband and biggest champion. I’m in awe of her accomplishments and her newly discovered talent.)

  8. Adrienne Kennedy!
    Lillian Hellman!
    Virginia Woolf (did you know she wrote a play or two?)
    Lydia Diamond
    Jackie Sibblies Drury
    Fatima Dike
    Marguerite Duras
    Carson McCullers
    Ellen McLaughlin
    Marsha Norman
    Wendy Wasserstein
    Anna Deavere Smith
    Judith Thompson
    Alice Childress

  9. Jacqueline Goldfinger deserves a spot on this list. Surprised you didn’t include her, given all she’s doing for the entire theatre scene wrt new material and playwrights.

  10. I feel intimidated by these playwrights, as well I should be. It’s good to see so many females achieving what they aspire to achieve. I hope the ranks continue to build and grow through the excellent works of themselves and others.

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