March 25, 2016

Alum Receives Whiting Award for Drama

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Cornell alumna, Madeleine George ’96, is one of this year’s recipients of the Whiting Award for her work as a playwright, according to the Whiting Foundation.

The Whiting Award is given annually to ten emerging authors in categories of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and drama. With prizes of $50,000, the Whiting Foundation aims to provide support to scholars and writers, according to the foundation’s website.

Past award recipients include novelist and author of The Pale King, David Foster Wallace and Pulitzer prize winner for The Hours, Michael Cunningham.

“It’s extremely thrilling to be included in the company of so many other writers I admire so much, both in the cohort of writers who currently getting Whiting Awards and the many inspiring writers who have come before me,” she said.

George said that her plays reflect on the human condition, using examples such as the subhuman, superhuman, gorillas and robots, in order to define what it means to be human.

“I often use my plays to think through questions about personhood: I’m drawn to looking at limit cases to see what light they shed on what it means to be a human being,” George said.

In her reflection on human nature, George often centers her plots in different institutions, created by humans.

“I’m interested in the institutions we construct to manage what’s unmanageable about human experience — how our schools, hospitals, prisons, etc. both express and condition our deepest longings, our best and worst impulses towards each other,” she said.

During her time at Cornell, George said she took most of her courses in linguistics and foreign languages. As a student in the College Scholar Program — a program for students to design their own major in the College of Arts and Sciences — she said she shaped her curriculum around her three main interests: language, gender, and performance.

“My coursework in syntax was, for me, an ideal preparation for my work as a playwright,” George said. “It taught me to look for patterns in language, to see expression as the end result of a series of sometimes invisible transformations and to attend to the construction of utterances as a primary driver of meaning.”

In today’s career force, building a life as an artist in America is a challenge, according to George. She has learned the importance of collaborating with other emerging artists for emotional, spiritual, and professional support.

George co-founded a collective of playwrights in 2003 — the Thirteen Playwrights, Inc. —  to address some of these difficulties faced by artists, she said. Together they realized productions of 13 plays, one by each playwright.