17 Living Female (and Trans*) American Playwrights You Should Know in 2017

Gender parity is a major focal point of discussion in the theater today. It is important to recognize that the majority of the classic Western theatrical canon has been written by white men. Likewise, it is imperative that we, as artists today, do something: not only discuss the inequity but actively seek to challenge it. In 2013, a group of playwrights and producers based in Los Angeles got together and formed a group, The Kilroys. Their mission is to mobilize artists in the field to support one another, and “to end the systemic underrepresentation of female and trans* playwrights in American theater.”

Currently playing at Collaboraction Theatre Company in Chicago is a new piece called Gender Breakdown.  This work takes statistics from a master’s thesis analyzing “52 theater companies and 250 plays during the 2015/16 season. The numbers reveal a “community” where women are marginalized, women of color are extremely marginalized, and non-gender-conforming artists are statistically invisible. The results breakdown: Female playwrights wrote 25 percent of the shows produced; female playwrights of color, 5 percent. Female directors helmed 36 percent of the shows; female directors of color, 4 percent. You’d think at least female actors would have parity, yes? No. Female actors comprised 43 percent of all the actors hired.” (Read more: Chicago Sun-Times)

At ArtsBoston, we are committed to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) in the arts. As part of this, we have been spearheading the local discussion about EDI in the arts through a series of workshops. The aforementioned study proves that representation in theater is not equitable to all members of American society. In honor of Women’s History Month (and because two of these Pulitzer Prize-winners are finally making their Broadway debuts in 2017), bringing attention to these dynamic and diverse voices is just the beginning of the road to inclusion.

By no means a comprehensive list, here, in alphabetical order, are my 17 to Know in ’17:

Annie Baker is a part of the Signature Theatre‘s “Residency Five” program, which guarantees three world premiere plays over a five-year residency per playwright. Her 2015 play, John, was her first in this program. In 2014, she won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for her play The Flick. Baker’s writing has been described as quirky and sincere and holds a mirror up to normal people living everyday lives.


María Irene Fornés is an avant-garde playwright and director who was a leading figure in the 1960s’ Off-Off-Broadway movement. Her themes focus on poverty and feminism, with her lesbian identity playing a central role. The author of over 30 plays, her play Fefu and Her Friends was revolutionary for being immersive and having an entirely female cast.


Kirsten Greenidge is a Huntington Theatre Playwriting Fellow, and a professor at Boston University. Her work shines a light on the intersection of race and class in America, by placing underrepresented voices on stage. In 2012, her play Milk Like Sugar (part of the Huntington’s 2016 season) won the Obie Award. Locally, her work has been performed at the Huntington, Company One, and Emerson Stage.


Danai Gurira is an American actress and playwright of Zimbabwean descent, and is best known to most audiences for her portrayal of Michonne on AMC’s The Walking DeadEclipsed, her Tony Award-winning play, is the first play featuring an all black and female creative cast and team to premiere on Broadway. Her play, The Convert, was part of Central Square Theater‘s 2015-16 season.


Katori Hall is a playwright and performer from Memphis, TN.  Her play, The Mountaintop, won the 2010 Olivier Award for Best New Play and ran on Broadway starring Angela Bassett and Samuel L. Jackson. She is a graduate of Columbia University, the A.R.T Institute at Harvard University, and Juilliard. Her play Saturday Night/Sunday Morning was part of Lyric Stage Company‘s 2015-16 season.


Amy Herzog is out of the Yale School of Drama, where she now teaches, and where she studied with Richard Nelson and John Guare. She is known for her clean, witty, actable dialogue, and has used her family for inspiration in many of her characters. She won the 2012 Obie Award for Best New American Play for 4000 Miles.


Naomi Iizuka is a playwright of American Latina and Japanese descent. Many of her works are non-linear and are influenced by her multicultural background. She is the head of playwriting at UC San Diego, her alma mater. Whether original (Good Kids) or adapted (Hamlet: Blood in the Brain from Hamlet and Polaroid Stories from the Greek myth of Eurydice and Orpheus) her works often take place in a bleak, urban landscape.


MJ Kaufman is a playwright and devised theater artist based in New York and Philadelphia. Their work has been seen locally at the Huntington Theatre and Fresh Ink Theatre. MJ is a member of the Public Theater’s Emerging Writers’ Group, and a Resident Teaching Artist at Philadelphia Young Playwrights. They have also written for Howlround, exploring the trans experience in the arts. 


Lisa Kron is best known for writing the book and lyrics to Fun Home, which won the 2015 Tony Award for Best Musical. She won the Tony Awards for Best Original Score and for Best Book of a Musical for Fun Home as well.  Lisa is a founding member of the legendary OBIE and Bessie Award-winning collaborative theater company The Five Lesbian Brothers.


Young Jean Lee is a Korean American playwright, director, and filmmaker, hailed by the New York Times as “hands down, the most adventurous downtown playwright of her generation,” and known for her experimental form of playwritingCompany One‘s production of her play We’re Gonna Die was a focal point the 2015-16 season. The A.R.T. Institute performed her play, The Shipmentin 2016.


Melinda Lopez is an actress, playwright, and educator from Boston! In 2013, she was made the inaugural playwright in residence at the Huntington Theatre. She also teaches locally at Boston University and Wellesley College. Her one-woman show Mala, exploring her Cuban American heritage, had its world premiere at ArtsEmerson in 2016, and she can currently be seen in Grand Concourse at SpeakEasy Stage Company


Lynn Nottage‘s work often deals with the lives of women of African descent. She is a graduate of Brown University and the Yale School of Drama, and is an associate professor of theater at Columbia University. Her play, Ruined, about the plight of women in civil-war torn Congo, won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Within the past 5 years, Lyric Stage Company has produced her plays Intimate Apparel and By The Way, Meet Vera Stark.


Suzan-Lori Parks is the first African American woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, is a MacArthur “Genius” Award recipient, and in 2015 was awarded the prestigious Gish Prize for Excellence in the Arts, among others. In 2002, she won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Topdog/Underdog, which you can currently see at the Huntington Theatre.


Sarah Ruhl studied playwriting at Brown University under Paula Vogel. She is known for theatrically exploring the mundane aspects of life through emotional psychological states. Her plays The Clean House (2004) and In The Next Room (or the Vibrator Play) (2009) were both finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Currently, Lyric Stage Company is presenting her romantic comedy, Stage Kiss.


Anna Deavere Smith is known to many for her roles as an actor on The West Wing and Nurse Jackie. She is also known for her documentary theater, using interviews and solo performance to engage a national conversation on race and justice. She won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding One-Person Show for Fires in the Mirror and Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, in consecutive years. Her latest work, Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Educationwas produced at the American Repertory Theater in 2016.


Paula Vogel is best known for her 1998 Pulitzer Prize-winning play How I Learned to Drive, which explores the impact of childhood sexual abuse. Not one to shy away from potentially controversial issues (her 1992 Obie-winning seriocomedy The Baltimore Waltz dealt with AIDS), she will make her Broadway debut this year with Indecent, inspired by the cultural impact of Shalom Asch’s 1906 drama, God of Vengeance, which featured an affair between a teenage woman and an older prostitute.


Mary Zimmerman is based in Chicago, where she is an ensemble member of the Lookingglass Theatre Company, Resident Director at the Goodman Theatre, and professor at Northwestern University. She has adapted and directed numerous works, including Metamorphoses (from Ovid, and for which she won the 2002 Tony Award for Best Direction), as well as Arabian Nights and Journey to the West, which have been holiday staples at Central Square Theater.


Marissa Friedman is the Project Coordinator and Executive Assistant at ArtsBoston. She has an MFA in Dramaturgy from the A.R.T Institute at Harvard University. She has written for American Repertory Theater, Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, and Long Wharf Theatre, among others.  twitter-4-512 @mlfriedman16
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Showing 9 comments
  • Anthony Toohey

    I know you said “not comprehensive, but Quiara Alegría Hudes is, to me, a glaring omission Cheers.

  • Asher Wyndham

    Great list, but it could be longer. Many of these names are familiar to most playwrights and theatre artists who attend theatre regularly or keep up to date with the latest plays. Where’s Madeleine George, Caridad Svich, Bekah Brunstetter, Dominique Morriseau, Aditi Kapil, Sheila Callaghan, Adrienne Kennedy, Cherrie Moraga, Lucy Thurber, Kimber Lee, Lauren Yee, Christina Ham, Dael Oleandersmith, Jen Silverman? That’s a short list.

  • Alice

    Where is Theresa Rebeck on this list?! I know it’s not supposed to be comprehensive, but she had a Broadway comedy starring Alan Rickman. Also Anne Washburn should be on there for “Mr. Burns” (and other works). And Jen Silverman. And Kate Hamill.

  • Julia Davis

    So glad to learn about playwrights that represent a variety of backgrounds, identities and experiences. There are so many important stories to tell outside of the white male lens. The title seems to erase or misgender the trans playwright included, though?

  • Alexis Scott

    Thank you for spotlighting women writers. However, if we are championing writers of diversity and expanding visibility, why put MJ on a list of “women writers” when they have clearly fought to be seen outside of a gendered binary?

  • John Apicella

    17 in 2017? Why not wait until 2018 so you can include Connie Congdon? Seriously, why not just include her in 2017?

    • Connie Congdon

      Dear John Apicella
      Thank you for you mentioning me!!
      I’m still out here and I’m still writing.

  • Stephanie Courtney

    Where is Lisa Loomer??!!!

  • Amy Levin

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