28 March 2009

Randy Gener Wins US Theatre Award

Photo courtesy of NY Daily News
A Filipino-American writer and editor in New York has won a major literary prize in the United States. New York City writer and critic Randy Gener, senior editor of American Theatre, is the winner of the 2007-08 George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism, which is administered annually by Cornell's Department of English.

The award was endowed by Nathan (1882-1958), the great theater critic who graduated in 1904 from Cornell, where he was an editor of both The Cornell Daily Sun and humor magazine the Cornell Widow. Nathan went on to write for and co-edit (with H.L. Mencken) two influential magazines, The Smart Set and American Mercury, and to publish 34 books on the theater.

Nathan's will mandated that the award winner for "the best piece of drama criticism during the theatrical year" be chosen by a majority vote of the heads of the English departments of Cornell, Princeton and Yale universities.

Gener was presented with the award and a cash prize of US$ 10,000 last 9 March 2009 at the Kalayaan Hall (Freedom Hall) of the Philippine Consulate Center, 556 Fifth Avenue. Ellis Hanson, Chair of the Cornell English Department, presented the award to Gener. Hon. Cecilia Rebong, Consul General of the Philippines, was also on hand, while actors Victor Lirio and Rona Figueroa were the evening’s emcees.

According to the statement released by the Nathan Awards Committee, "He has used that venue [America Theatre Magazine] and others to draw our attention to largely ignored voices and visions on the international theatrical scene, to the work of Filipino-American playwright Jessica Hagedorn, to a small but lively Tennessee Williams Festival in Provincetown, and to the future of theatrical criticism itself in essays that wed critical intelligence with a beat reporter’s love of the telling and unruly fact.

"In one piece, Gener argues that, at its best, criticism is ‘a cultural asset, one of the bases on which democracy and community are built.’ He fulfills that lofty goal by implicitly reminding us of how much that is excellent in theater here and abroad is ignored by a critical fraternity which, during this age of globalization, seems more parochial than ever," the Committee's citation added.

Gener, the first Asian American to receive this award, is also an editor, playwright, visual artist and author of "Love Seats for Virginia Woolf" and "What Remains of a Rembrandt Torn Into Four Pieces," among other plays; scholarly essays, articles and reviews in the Village Voice, The New York Times, New York Magazine, Time Out New York, the International Herald Tribune and other publications. He also was a founding critic of the New York Theatre Wire, an online magazine.

Gener, dark-haired and bright-smiled, and a self-described "Martial Law Baby," was born and raised under the Ferdinand Marcos regime. He moved to the U.S. in 1986.

"It was right before the 'snap elections,' " says Gener in an interview with the NY Daily News, referring to the sudden elections in which Marcos was reelected despite evidence of massive fraud.

Enrolled at the University of Nevada, Gener put himself through school - not by selling papers, but writing for them.

With his bachelor's degree and the dream of working for The New Yorker magazine, he moved to upstate New York to attend the writing program at Bard College. When he moved to the city, he says, "I dove into the typing pool."

While holding down other jobs, he interned for two years at the Village Voice, where he became a regular contributor.

Gener's affiliation with American Theatre magazine began in 1995, when he was a Jerome Foundation Fellow participating in the magazine's Affiliated Writers Program. He was hired as associate editor in 2002 and, a year later, was promoted to his current senior position.

His passion for writing and the dramatic arts has led him to make a successful living as a playwright, director and critic. But he's proudest of the entries he wrote for the latest edition of the "Cambridge Guide to American Theatre."

As a champion of cultural exchange and dialogue, he keeps an exhausting schedule of lectures all over the world.

More about the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism here.