Freelance writer Rhoda Feng wins 2022-23 Nathan Award

Freelance writer Rhoda Feng has been named winner of the 2022-23 George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism.

In selecting Feng, the Nathan Award committee noted that freelancers who must ply their trade in a shrinking number of receptive publications merit special commendation and admiration.

The committee comprises the heads of the English departments of Cornell, Princeton and Yale Universities, and is administered by Cornell’s Department of Literatures in English in the College of Arts and Sciences.

The committee praised the verve, precision, and wry wit of Feng’s criticism, observing that she also brings historically and culturally informed sensibilities to all her reviewing. “Feng’s evocative prose succinctly conveys the somatic, poetic, and emotional essence of a production,” the committee concluded in singling out her combined review of Shaina Taub’s “Suffs” and Ntozake Shange’s “for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf,” published in LIBER: A Feminist Review.

Feng has stated that “representation matters a great deal in criticism.” She has prioritized covering works that focus on race and gender, arguing that her positionality allows her “to surface different parts” of the plays she reviews. Such perspectives are essential for “the stimulation of intelligent playgoing” that grounds the Nathan Award.

Feng’s criticism has appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, the New Republic, the New York Times, Frieze, Vogue, the Nation, the Washington Post, NPR, the Los Angeles Times, the Village Voice, and elsewhere. She also edits the history section for the Los Angeles Review of Books website.

The award was endowed by George Jean Nathan (1882-1958), a prominent theater critic who published 34 books on the theater and co-edited (with H.L. Mencken) two influential magazines – The Smart Set and The American Mercury. Nathan graduated from Cornell in 1904; as a student, he served as editor of The Cornell Daily Sun and the humor magazine The Cornell Widow.

An archive of Nathan’s papers, correspondence, books and related artifacts are held in the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections in the Cornell University Library.

Recent Nathan Award winners include Vinson Cunningham, Maya Phillips, Alexis Soloski, Soraya Nadia McDonald, and John H. Muse.

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Rhoda Feng, wearing big black glasses, long hair and a serious expression
Provided Rhoda Feng