New Edward M. Kennedy Prize Celebrates American Drama

Siblings Jean Kennedy Smith and Ted Kennedy. Photo: Google Images.

By Adam Farley, Editorial Assistant
April / May 2013

Columbia University and Jean Kennedy Smith have inaugurated a new award, the Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History, or the EMK Prize. This year’s prize is actually shared by two playwrights: Dan O’Brien for The Body of an American, and Robert Schenkkan for All the Way.

The two inaugural winners will divide the award of $100,000 endowed by Jean Kennedy Smith in memory of her brother Ted’s love of theater and the arts.

Judges for the prize will rotate annually and include contemporary playwrights, scholars, and theater professionals. This year’s panel of eight reached a unanimous decision that both plays epitomize the mission of the EMK Prize. Speaking for her late brother, Kennedy Smith recalled, “He was intrigued by the theater’s creation of worlds, based on the human imagination, either for purposes of escaping what’s difficult in life or for purposes of confronting difficult truths.”

Both plays seem to embody the youngest Kennedy’s fearless confrontationalism. O’Brien’s The Body of an American is about the ethics and consequences of war reporting, specifically of the famous photograph of an American soldier’s body being dragged from a Blackhawk helicopter in Mogadishu in 1993. It premiered at the Portland Center Stage in Portland, Oregon.

Schenkkan’s All the Way turns on the aftermath of the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the first year of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency, and is told through several historical personalities, including Martin Luther King, Jr., J. Edgar Hoover, and LBJ himself. It also premiered in Oregon, at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.

Jean Kennedy Smith was the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland from 1993-1998 and was inducted into the Irish America Hall of Fame in 2011. At this year’s Hall of Fame ceremony, she will receive a special award for her service towards the peace process in Northern Ireland and for furthering the diplomatic ties of Ireland and the United States, continuing the Kennedy legacy of public service.

2013 marks the 50th anniversary of JFK’s trip to Ireland and his assassination in Dallas.

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From left: House Speaker Tip O’Neill, President Ronald Reagan, John Hume, senator Ted Kennedy and then Irish minister for foreign affairs Peter Barry, on Capitol Hill, Washington DC, in 1984.
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