2021 Greenfield Prize winner Aleshea Harris.

Image: RJ Eldridge

Playwright, spoken word artist, actor and screenwriter Aleshea Harris has been announced as the recipient of the Hermitage Greenfield Prize Award for 2021.

Harris, a CalArts alumna, has previously been the winner of such prizes as the American Playwriting Foundation’s Relentless Award, in 2016, for her work Is God Is, which also received three Obie Awards in 2018 after its production at Soho Rep in New York City. Another recent work, What to Send Up When It Goes Down, has been seen off-Broadway and at American Repertory Theatre and was nominated for a Drama Desk award.

The announcement was made virtually with Hermitage Artist Retreat artistic director Andy Sandberg and jurors Mandy Greenfield (no relation to the originators of the prize), Robert O’Hara and Nataka Garrett taking part. This is the 13th year for the prize, awarded in partnership with the Greenfield Foundation. The award rotates among artists in the visual, music and theater fields. Last year’s winner was visual artist Jennifer Packer. Previous theater winners have included Nilo Cruz, Craig Lucas, John Guare and Martyna Majok.

The prize, a $30,000 commission with a six-week Hermitage residency, allows an artist time and freedom to work on new projects, and the results are later presented to the public, with the Hermitage teaming up with such organizations as The Ringling, Asolo Repertory Theatre and  ensemble newSRQ. Packer, for example, will be featured in an exhibit at The Ringling in 2022. Harris’ new work should be presented in concert with Asolo Rep the following year.

At a time when “arts organizations and artists are struggling around the world” due to Covid-19, artistic director Sandberg framed the prize as a bright spot. And Harris won praise as a “rising star” from him and the jurors.

Besides Harris, three finalists were named for the prize, each of whom will receive $1,000 and a residency at the artist retreat on Manasota Key. They are Donja R. Love, Nikkole Salter and Whitney White.

Harris, who appeared genuinely moved when she learned the news online, said she was “very surprised” as well as “pleased and honored” to receive the prize. She added that, “It means the world” that those behind the prize believe in her ideas and work.

The annual Greenfield Prize weekend is set for April, with a celebration dinner on April 11 taking place, for the first time, outdoors, at The Ringling, where Harris will receive her award. For more details, visit hermitageartistretreat.org.

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