Marina Keegan Award honors playwrights

A new playwriting prize for Yale College seniors has been established in memory of Marina Keegan ’12.
A new playwriting prize for Yale College seniors has been established in memory of Marina Keegan ’12. Photo by Joy Shan .

When Marina Keegan ’12 died just a few days after her graduation from Yale College, her parents, friends and professors soon began to wonder how her memory might best be kept alive at the school.

This year marks the establishment of the Marina Keegan Award for Excellence in Playwriting, which will be open to any student in the senior class who has taken a playwriting course at Yale. The award, jointly sponsored by the English Department and Theater Studies program, aims to encourage young writers to express themselves through playwriting, and to keep Keegan’s spirit alive on the campus she loved so much, her mother Tracy Keegan said.

“[Marina] would want to have something that would inspire people to try to continue to understand the world through their words and through performance,” Tracy Keegan said.

The Marina Keegan Award will be the first prize for playwriting at Yale, or even for theater of any kind apart from an award that currently exists within the Theater Studies program to honor essay writing.

The award is open to any major, and Charlie Polinger ’13, who is among the group of Marina’s friends that developed the award, said they plan for the award to honor the best playwright in the senior class rather than an individual work. The application requires the writer to submit at least one full-length play, and a second work which may be either shorter or full-length.

“It’s a fairly rigorous application,” Polinger said. “But Marina was rigorous — she wrote several full-length plays.”

Donald Margulies, who has taught playwriting at Yale for over 20 years, said the genre historically has been one of the most underappreciated types of writing on campus in terms of official recognition. He explained that many of his own past students have gone on to vastly successful careers as playwrights and screenwriters, but that until this year no distinction has existed to recognize them while still on campus, unlike with other forms of creative writing.

Tracy Keegan said the family found it particularly important to establish something before this year’s graduation, when many of those who knew Marina would still be on campus. Creative writing professor Anne Fadiman said the award will be announced at a public event including refreshments and reading from the winner’s plays. This year, the presentation will take place on April 26 in the Saybrook library, which Fadiman said was a very important place for Marina on campus.

“[The public reception] makes it more celebratory, and I guess you could say more theatrical,” Fadiman said. “Plays are a very public genre. … Plays involve an audience.”

Playwriting professor Deborah Margolin explained that the award also aims to honor a playwright who aspires to spread his or her passion through writing, as Marina did with her interest in the human struggle for justice. Margolin added that while Marina had sometimes questioned the purpose of the arts, she ultimately believed in their role as a tool to spread her concern for humanity.

Kevin Keegan, Marina Keegan’s father, said theater and writing were defining aspects of his daughter’s experience at Yale, which was a perfect fit for her in part due to its strong English Department and opportunities to pursue undergraduate theater.

He added that while Marina wrote in genres spanning everything from fiction and personal essays to journalism and poetry, she “was really a theater person.”

Fadiman said Keegan’s plays, including “Independents” and “Utility Monster,” have already and will continue to reach audiences far beyond Yale, making hers a particularly inspiring name to attach to a playwriting prize. “Independents” was staged at the New York Fringe Festival last summer, and Tracy Keegan said “Utility Monster” will go up professionally at the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater later this May.

“Marina’s family, friends and teachers have spent nearly a year grieving for her, and we will all continue, but this will be a positive step,” Fadiman said. “This is a prize she would have loved to win. Had it been offered last year, she probably would have won it. We want this to be a joyful occasion.”

Marina Keegan was in Saybrook College.

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