The George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism for the 1996-7 season has been awarded to Ben Brantley, chief drama critic of The New York Times, Elinor Fuchs, author of The Death of Character (Indiana University Press), and Todd London, artistic director of New Dramatists and columnist for American Theatre magazine.
The Nathan Award, designed to "stimulate intelligent play-going," has been given annually since 1958 for "the best piece of dramatic criticism, whether article, essay, treatise or book," published during the theatrical year. The prize of $10,000 is administered by the Cornell University Department of English, under the terms of a trust established by author and critic George Jean Nathan (1882-1958), who graduated from Cornell in 1904. It is considered one of the richest and most distinguished prizes in American theater.
The winner is selected by a committee consisting of the chairs of the English departments of Cornell, Princeton and Yale universities and an expert on dramatic criticism from each department. The committee is led by Jonathan Culler, chair of Cornell's Department of English.
The committee citations said: "Ben Brantley has brought to the daily review a generosity of spirit to match his sharpness of insight -- descriptively precise, critically even-handed and imbued with a sense of the whole: both the individual work and the theater at large.
"Elinor Fuchs' The Death of Character stands out for its range and boldness in reappraising twentieth-century drama from the perspective of the avant-garde theater. The result is provocative, controversial and solidly based on recent theater practices.
"A shrewd analyst of the theatrical scene, Todd London's "Mamet vs. Mamet" (American Theatre, July/August 1966) offers a provocative and telling analysis of the ways in which the playwright's three professional identities -- as dramatist, director, and theorist --often work at cross purposes."
Previous winners of the Nathan Award include Walter Kerr (1963) and Mel Gussow (1978) of The New York Times, Kevin Kelly (1992) of The Boston Globe, John Lahr (1969, 1974) of The New Yorker, Robert Brustein (1961, 1986), Elizabeth Hardwick (1966), and Richard Gilman (1970).