Neukom Institute Announces 2021 Playwriting Award Winners

Playwrights Gina Femia (L) and Nkenna Akunna (R). Photos by: Kristin Licciardo; Seayoung Yim.

Gina Femia’s meet you at the Galaxy Diner. has won the 2021 Neukom Institute Literary Arts Award for PlaywritingSome of Us Exist in the Future, by Nkenna Akunna, received runner-up honors.

“These are two terrific dramatic works that make us think about the emotional dimensions of the intersection of lives and the digital,” said Dan Rockmore, director of Dartmouth’s Neukom Institute for Computational Science.

meet you at the Galaxy Diner tells the story of old high school friends who reconnect by chance over a 1990s-era online messaging service, sparking a wave of memories and old emotions. The play explores technology, outer space, and whether looking back can help people remember who they are.

“Gina Femia’s work is remarkable—it’s thoughtful and hopeful, showing that our frenetic digital culture has space for nostalgia and meaningful connection,” said Rockmore.

Femia’s award includes a $5,000 cash prize and two weeklong workshops: one at Dartmouth’s VoxLab in July 2021 and another at Northern Stage during the ’21-’22 season.

“Exploring humanity on stage is the heartbeat of most of my work and to have an award that recognizes the importance of looking through it with a digital lens, particularly after 2020, is vital to that continual exploration,” said Femia. “I’m so full of gratitude for so many reasons, but most of all to be given an opportunity to develop this play that’s so close to my heart and soul, especially after this past year; it just means everything to me.”

Nkenna Akunna’s Some of Us Exist in the Future follows a Black immigrant in Brooklyn, New York through her daily effort to scrape by, and the nightly calls she receives from the gods on her television, prompting the question: “What does it mean to die to this world?”

“Nkenna Akunna has given us a lyrical and sharply funny piece that plays with the boundary between the real and the otherworldly that the digital makes possible, and the possibilities that it can create for reimagining the self,” Rockmore said.

“It is so lovely for my work to be honored in this way,” said Akunna, “not least because I wrote my first play at Dartmouth five years ago. I look forward to continue working on Some of Us… in residency this summer in Hanover.”

Akunna, a member of Dartmouth’s class of 2016, is the first Dartmouth graduate to be honored in the Neukom program. The runner-up award includes a $500 cash prize and a solo residency with VoxLab.

The annual playwriting award considers plays and other full-length works for the theater that address the question “What does it mean to be a human in a computerized world?” This year’s winner and runner-up come from a shortlist of 12 plays selected from over 140 submissions.

The Neukom playwriting award is a partnership between the Neukom Institute, the Department of Theater at Dartmouth College, VoxLab, and Northern Stage based in White River Junction, Vermont.

The Neukom Institute for Computational Science is dedicated to supporting and inspiring computational work. The Literary Arts Awards is part of the Neukom Institute’s initiative to explore the ways in which computational ideas impact society.

[Based on a press release.]