New York University has awarded the Joe A. Callaway Prize for the Best Book on Drama or Theater to Harvard University Professor Martin Puchner for his The Drama of Ideas: Platonic Provocations in Theater and Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 2010).
The Callaway Prize is awarded biennially by NYU’s Department of English for the best book on drama or theater published during the previous two years by an American author. It carries a cash award of $9,000.
In The Drama of Ideas, Puchner, the Wien Professor of Drama and of English and Comparative Literature at Harvard, reveals how the theater and philosophy have been intertwined at their roots—despite each field’s historic disregard for the other. Most philosophy has rejected the theater, denouncing it as a place of illusion or moral decay; the theater has spurned philosophy, insisting that drama deals in actions, not ideas.
The book was selected from a large number of distinguished works on dramatic literature, performance theory, and theater history. The three-member panel of judges, chaired by Una Chaudhuri, professor of English and Drama at NYU, characterized The Drama of Ideas as a “work of exceptional intellectual power and disciplinary consequence.”
“Staging a wide-ranging conversation between Western theater and philosophy, the book makes a compelling case for revising core assumptions of both fields, especially those that associate each with opposite interests: the theater with illusion and action, philosophy with ideas,” the panel wrote. “Uncovering a robust dramatic tradition that prizes intellectual debate and dialogue, as well as a philosophical tradition that crucially mobilizes elements of theatricality, The Drama of Ideas is an astonishingly original and magisterial work of dramatic theory.”
Honorable Mentions were awarded to three books:
• Kimberly Jannarone’s Artaud and His Double (University of Michigan Press, 2011), which the judges characterized as a provocative, meticulously researched inquiry into the theatrical practices and ideological complexities of one of the most influential figures of twentieth-century theater;
• Daniel O’Quinn’s Entertaining Crisis in the Atlantic Imperium, 1770-1790 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011), which the judges found to be a work of theater history that does the valuable service of giving the reader a close-up view of a past entertainment culture while also keeping a much broader lens on significant considerations about the relation between performance, sociability, and historical change;
• Judith Pascoe’s The Sarah Siddons Audio Files: Romanticism and the Lost Voice (University of Michigan Press, 2011), which the judges cited for bringing the insights of media archaeology to bear on theater history and for raising searching questions about the nature of performance and reception in an era just before the invention of recording technology.
The Callaway Prize for the Best Book on Drama, first awarded in 1992, was established by Joe A. Callaway, an actor, drama lecturer, and supporter of theatrical causes.