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Wednesday, September 17, 2014
samuel d. hunter portrait
Playwright Samuel D. Hunter, recipient of a 2014 MacArthur Fellowship, premiered three works in 2013-14. Photo courtesy of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Playwright Samuel D. Hunter, who received a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Iowa in 2007, has been named a winner of a 2014 MacArthur Fellowship, also known as the “genius grant.”

Hunter crafts moving portraits of unlikely protagonists and explores the human capacity for empathy through the prism of his characters’ struggles. Born and raised in a small Idaho town, he sets much of his work in his native region, within the nondescript confines of staff break rooms, cramped apartments, and retirement homes inhabited by ordinary people in search of more meaningful human connections.

The Iowa Playwrights Workshop—the UI Department of Theatre Arts’ MFA Program in Playwriting—is an intensive three-year program dedicated to educating playwrights for the professional theater.

Besides Hunter, other alumni include playwrights Tennessee Williams, Sherry Kramer, and Naomi Wallace, and television writers Rick Cleveland and Barry Kemp.

For more information, see the UI Playwrights Workshop website.

Despite the stark realism of his settings, Hunter leavens his plays with humor and compassion for the lives he depicts, while juxtaposing the banal circumstances of his characters with literary allusions and larger themes of faith and doubt.

Hunter premiered three new plays during the 2013–14 season—The Few (2013), Rest (2014), and A Great Wilderness (2014)—that continue 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.

In The Whale (2012), one of his most widely produced works to date, Hunter tells the story of Charlie, an expository writing instructor who has been driven by grief to a state of morbid obesity. A writing assignment on Melville’s Moby Dick becomes a leitmotif that resonates throughout the play, as its lonely and adrift characters move toward a deeper understanding of the hopes and motivations that propel one another.

Hunter received a B.F.A. (2004) from New York University, an M.F.A. in Playwriting as part of the Iowa Playwrights Workshop(2007) from the UI, and an Artist Diploma (2009) from Juilliard’s Playwrights Program. He is a resident playwright at New Dramatists, an ensemble playwright at Victory Gardens, and a member of Partial Comfort Productions. His plays have been produced at such venues as Playwrights Horizons, South Coast Repertory, Victory Gardens, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Seattle Repertory Theatre, The Old Globe, and Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.

The MacArthur Fellows Program awards unrestricted fellowships to talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction. Each fellowship comes with a stipend of $625,000, paid out over five years.

Recent UI-affiliated recipients include alumnus and historian Jacob Soll (2011) and Tim Barrett, former director of the UI Center for the Book (2009).