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Release: April 2, 1999

UI Playwrights Workshop member Lee Simon wins national Lorraine Hansberry Award

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Levy "Lee" Simon Jr., a graduate student in the University of Iowa Playwrights Workshop, has been honored with the American College Theatre Festival (ACTF) Lorraine Hansberry Award, for the nation's best student-written play about the African-American experience. Simon was honored for "The Bow Wow Club," which premiered at the 1998 Iowa Playwrights Festival in the UI department of theatre arts.

"The Bow Wow Club" depicts a no-holds-barred reunion of old Harlem companions that tests the meanings of friendship, marriage and community.

Supported by the Kennedy Center Education Department and the Dramatic Publishing Company, the Lorraine Hansberry Award is presented in memory of the trailblazing African-American playwright who wrote "A Raisin in the Sun." Hansberry was the youngest playwright -- and the first African-American playwright -- to win the New York Drama Critics Circle Award after "A Raisin in the Sun" was produced on Broadway in 1959. She died of cancer in 1965 at the age of 34.

Simon is the second UI winner of the award. Brenda Faye Collie won in 1980 for "Silent Octaves." UI students Charles Smith (1983) and Robert Alexander (1997) won second-place honors. UI alumnus Sean Clark won the award in 1984, just before he came to the UI.

In addition to a cash award of $2,500, Simon will receive an all-expenses-paid fellowship to attend the prestigious Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center in Connecticut, and his play will be published by Dramatic Publishing Company. the UI department of theatre arts will also receive a $750 grant in recognition of the award.

Simon is in the final semester of his Master of Fine Arts studies at the UI. His plays include "God, the Crackhouse and the Devil," which was produced by La Mama in New York last year, and several plays written at the UI -- "Caseload," "The Last Day of King Henri Christophe," "Shango in the South Bronx," "Courageous and Infinity" and "Dad, the Stuttering Preacher," in addition to "The Bow Wow Club." He is now at work on "For the Love of Freedom," an epic drama about the Haitian revolution that will receive a reading at the 1999 Iowa Playwrights Festival in May.

Simon also has extensive experience as an actor, including stints with the Negro Ensemble Company and the Circle Repertory Theatre Company. Last summer and fall he toured the United States and the United Kingdom in "Miss Evers' Boys," and he was a cast member of the Pulitzer Prize winning "Kentucky Cycle." In Iowa he has performed for Iowa City's Riverside Theatre, and next summer he will perform in August Wilson's "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" for Iowa Summer Rep 1999.

The Iowa Playwrights Festival is a unique event in college theater. Each spring the UI department of theatre arts directs virtually all its academic, technical and production resources to the performance and discussion of new plays from the Iowa Playwrights Workshop.

"The Bow Wow Club" joins an extensive list of plays that have emerged from the Iowa Playwrights Festival to wider recognition through awards or successful professional productions, and have been honored with theatrical awards. Examples in recent years include: Peter Ullian's "In the Shadow of the Terminal Tower," which was selected by Harold Prince for development as a musical, and premiered as "Eliot Ness in Cleveland" last season in Denver; Naomi Wallace's "The War Boys" and "In the Heart of America," which have been given major productions in London; and Robert Alexander's "Preface to the Alien Garden," which has been given a series of productions throughout the country. Kate Aspengren, who is now a faculty playwright-in-residence, presented "Dear Mrs. Martin" in the festival, where it was seen by a representative of the Samuel French publishing house, leading to the script's publication and availability to theaters throughout the country.

This season's festival will be May 3-8 in the UI Theatre Building.

ACTF is a national organization that promotes and honors excellence in college theater. ACTF sponsors regional and national competitions in which the UI can boast a record of consistent success for productions, playwriting and design. The UI was the inaugural winner of an award for support of student playwrights, administered by ACTF for the Association for Theatre in Higher Education.