Drama Prof Wins International Prize

August 28, 2009 - News Release

University of Guelph drama professor and playwright Judith Thompson has won the 2009 Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award for her political play Palace of the End.

The announcement was made today during the Edinburgh Festival, the biggest arts festival in the world. The prestigious award is presented to an outstanding Fringe play that builds understanding and engagement of human rights. Palace of the End was chosen by a panel of judges from a record-number of 63 entries.

The play consists of three storylines that capture the global effects of the Iraq War. The first fictional monologue is based on Lynndie England, the young female American soldier who was convicted for torturing detainees. The second monologue features British microbiologist David Kelly, who told the BBC that the dossier justifying the invasion of Iraq was grossly exaggerated. The third tells the story of Narjis al Saffarh, a leading Communist in the 1960s and Iraqi mother of four, who was brutally tortured by the Baathists and finally killed by American bombs.

“It's a truly formidable piece of work — three absolutely stunning pieces that together encompass the range of consequences of political decisions, from the individual human level right up to the stresses on society as a whole,” said John Watson, Amnesty International Scotland director, who was speaking on behalf of the judging panel.

“The production highlights so many of the issues that Amnesty International works on, including illegal detention, torture and the humanitarian cost of war. Yet the judges found the script and performances so strong that the play never falls into the trap of being ‘worthy’ or 'preachy.’”

This is the latest honour Thompson has received for Palace of the End. Last fall, the play was a finalist for the 2008 Governor General's Literary Awards. In March 2008, she won the prestigious Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. She was the first Canadian to win the annual award.

Thompson, a U of G professor since 1992, is known for her complex and sometimes disturbing plays that give voice to human failings and accomplishments. In 2007 she won the prestigious Walter Carsen Prize for Excellence in the Performing Arts, administered and presented by the Canada Council for the Arts. She’s been nominated for a Genie Award twice, was a 2007 finalist for the inaugural Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, nominated for a Dora Mavor Moore Award, and won the Floyd S. Chalmers Canadian Play Award.

She was named an officer of the Order of Canada in 2005, considered the country’s highest honour of lifetime achievement, for her outstanding contributions in arts and writing.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519 824-4120, Ext. 53338/lhunt@uoguelph.ca, or Barry Gunn, Ext. 56982/bagunn@uoguelph.ca

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