Katori Hall, who has told stirring stories about Black life in America both onstage and onscreen, has won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for “The Hot Wing King,” a family dramedy that centers on a man’s quest to make award-winning chicken wings while personal conflict swirls around him.
The Off Broadway play — produced last year by the Pershing Square Signature Center, where it had a truncated run — drew praise for challenging conventional conceptions of Black masculinity and fatherhood.
Its main character, Cordell, has recently moved into a home in Memphis with his lover, Dwayne, whom Cordell enlists to help him make his submission to the annual “Hot Wang Festival.” Things get complicated when Dwayne wants to take in his 16-year-old nephew, whose mother died while being restrained by the police — a tragedy for which Dwayne blames himself.
In the awards announcements on Friday, the Pulitzer board called the play a “funny, deeply felt consideration of Black masculinity and how it is perceived, filtered through the experiences of a loving gay couple and their extended family as they prepare for a culinary competition.”
Hall, 40, the author of the Olivier Award-winning “The Mountaintop,” wrote a play that was full of frenetic action (stirring pots, dismembering chickens, spicing sauces), emotional exchanges and sitcom-style ribbing.
She also co-wrote the book for “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical,” which is nominated for numerous Tony Awards (including best musical and best book of a musical), and created the Starz drama “P-Valley,” which follows a crew of dancers at a strip club in the Mississippi Delta. Hall is currently working on Season 2 of the series, which is based on one of her plays.
With theaters across the country closed during the pandemic, the Pulitzer committee made some adjustments to its qualifications: Finalists were allowed to include works that were performed virtually or those that were canceled or postponed during the pandemic. “The Hot Wing King” opened at the beginning of March 2020 but was not able to finish its run because of pandemic closures.
“What’s refreshing here,” Ben Brantley wrote in his review for The New York Times, “is the matter-of-fact depiction of Black gay characters who may be dissatisfied, to varying degrees, with their own behavior but not, ultimately, because of their sexuality.”
“Watching Cordell and Dwayne casually snuggle and kiss,” he went on, “draping their bodies over each other, you sense a bond in which erotic attraction has segued into something both more relaxed and more complex.”