Playwright Samuel D. Hunter wins 'genius grant'

Playwright Samuel D. Hunter wins 'genius grant'

By Warren Levinson, Associated Press | Posted - Sep. 17, 2014 at 3:21 p.m.


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NEW YORK (AP) — Among the 21 winners of this year's MacArthur Foundation "genius grants" is a playwright who promises to keep doing what he he's been doing.

"What's going to change about my work is ostensibly not very much," said Samuel D. Hunter by phone from Chicago. "I just think I'm going to have so much more time and freedom to devote myself to it in this huge way."

The 33-year-old Idaho-born Hunter, whose plays include "A Bright New Boise" and "The Whale," knew he had won the award — along with its $625,000 prize — weeks ago but was sworn to secrecy. Still, he admitted to feeling stunned. "It still hasn't totally settled in my mind yet," he said. "It still feels almost like a fiction."

The MacArthur Foundation cited Hunter for his interest in "the poetry of everyday speech and the aspirations of those seldom celebrated on the stage, from a staff of outcasts who run a newspaper for lonely, long-haul truckers to the octogenarian residents of a rest home days away from shutting down."

His most famous work, "The Whale," which was staged off-Broadway in 2012 by Playwrights Horizons, has at its center a writing teacher who weighs about 600 pounds and is eating himself to death.

"I'm not writing screenplays that are being made into $100 million films," he said. "These are very small, contained, quiet plays and they don't make a ton of money. But for the next several years, that's not a concern."

Hunter holds degrees in playwriting from New York University, the Iowa Playwrights Workshop and The Juilliard School. He was raised in Moscow, Idaho, and now makes his home in New York City.

He said he was aware of the annual genius grants, but never expected to get one. "It honestly had never occurred to me," he said. "It felt like even to consider it was sort of a narcissistic act."

He is currently rehearsing his new play "Rest" at the Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago. It's the second production of his play set in a retirement home and it opens on Friday.

"So it's an eventful week," he said with a laugh.

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Warren Levinson

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