This year’s Pulitzer Prize winner for the drama category is the first Black playwright to be awarded the honor, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Michael R. Jackson was awarded the prestige, along with $15,000 for his off-Broadway musical, A Strange Loop. It is the first musical to win the category without being on Broadway.
“I feel like I keep getting transported to different realities," Jackson told the Free Press. "One minute, I'm excited about winning a theater award, and then I go back to a prior reality and I'm in an America where there's a pandemic and insanity everywhere, people dying, people sick, people banging their pots at seven o'clock."
The judges described the play as a "metaﬁctional musical that tracks the creative process of an artist transforming issues of identity, race, and sexuality."
The play premiered last year at the Playwrights Horizons in association with Page 73, reports Playbill. While the play is not an autobiography, it is inspired by Jackson’s life.
"It's emotionally autobiographical. The facts are whatever they need to be in order to tell the story of this character of Usher," he said. "I've experienced every emotion that Usher has experienced."
The musical follows Usher, a Black, queer playwright working as a Broadway usher for The Lion King as he tries to finish his musical. Other characters in the play exemplify Usher’s thoughts and feelings, such as doubt.
"And it’s all set to a bouncy Broadway beat, with an assortment of the kind of infectious, richly harmonic melodies that would have your grandparents leaving the theater humming. That is, if they hadn’t walked out before." The New York Times said of the work.
The show, which Jackson began writing in 2001, was also named the best musical of the 2019-2020 season by the New York Drama Critics Circle.
Jackson said he has been into the arts his whole life. He earned a BFA and MFA from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. As an undergrad, he wrote a monologue titled “Why I Can't Get Work," that kickstarted what is now an award-winning piece.
In an interview with Out magazine, Jackson said he never thought his work would be produced.
“I wrote this story because I felt like I never saw myself reflected,” he told them. “I never quite saw something that was an examination of what it was like to be a self, in general, and to be a Black queer self in particular. It feels nice to know that people from all different backgrounds…find cause to reflect themselves and to reflect on a Black queer protagonist at the center of it.”
He celebrated his accomplishment on Twitter, thanking everyone who has helped him on his journey.
“Never in my wildest dreams. NEVER. IN MY. WILDEST. DREAMS,” he wrote. “Thank you to everyone who has supported me on my journey to such an incredible honor.”
Never in my wildest dreams. NEVER. IN MY. WILDEST. DREAMS. Thank you to everyone who has supported me on my journey to such an incredible honor. I’m sure I’ll have more to say once I’ve caught my breath and looked at all these text messages and emails but for now, THANK YOU. https://t.co/P73Aonzy5t— Michael R. Jackson (@TheLivingMJ) May 4, 2020
“That would be the strangest loop of all," he said. "I mean, that would blow my mind."