Playwright Katori Hall poses for a portrait in front of the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in New York on Sept, 21, 2011. Hall won the Pulitzer Prize for drama for her play “The Hot Wing King.” (AP Photo/Charles Sykes)

Award-winning playwright Katori Hall, who recently won a 2021 Pulitzer Prize for drama, always was a go-getter. 

She was a laser-focused and determined young lady at Craigmont High School, according to her then-senior guidance counselor, Janet Thompson.

“I knew Katori well,” said Thompson. “She would drop by almost daily with requests for transcripts and recommendations as she completed her college applications. 

“Katori was Craigmont’s first African-American valedictorian in the school’s history. Katori would talk about wanting to spread her wings and move beyond North Memphis.”

And move beyond North Memphis, Hall did. 

It was announced last week that she had won a Pulitzer for her stage play “The Hot Wing King.” 

Hall’s work beat out two other finalists:  “Circle Jerk” by Michael Breslin and Patrick Foley, and “Stew” by Zora Howard.

The Pulitzer committee released a statement, calling “The Hot Wing King” a “funny deeply felt consideration of Black masculinity and how it is perceived, filtered through the experiences of a loving gay couple and their extended family as they prepare for a culinary competition.” 

The production was running at Pershing Square Signature Center in New York City in early 2020 when its run was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Janet Thompson (Courtesy photo)

“Katori would talk about moving to a big city, where her dreams could flourish,” said Thompson. “She wanted to be in New York City to absorb the energy and just live in the excitement. That is why she chose Columbia. If you are valedictorian, there are some full scholarships offered to you automatically. One is the University of Memphis. But, Katori was seriously focused on her aspirations.”

At Columbia, Hall earned her degree in both African-American Studies and Creative Writing. 

She went on to Harvard University and earned a master’s degree in Fine Arts. Hall later studied to complete a graduate diploma at the renowned Juilliard School, a private, performing arts conservatory in New York.

Hall boasts a number of prestigious awards and accolades, including: a Laurence Olivier Award, Susan Smith Blackburn Award, Lark Play Development Center Playwrights of New York (PONY) Fellowship, two Lecompte du Nouy Prizes from Lincoln Center, Fellowship of Southern Writers Bryan Family Award in Drama, NYFA Fellowship.

Also, the Columbia University John Jay Award for Distinguished Professional Achievement, National Black Theatre’s August Wilson Playwriting Award, and the Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award. 

Hall also is known for her work as the executive producer for “P-Valley,” a breakout hit series on STARZ. 

Hall also gained important critical acclaim for writing both “The Mountaintop” and “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.”

Levi Frayser Jr.

Associate Professor of Fine Arts Levi Frazier Jr. at Southwest Tennessee Community College was delighted that a Memphis native has reached such heights.

“I think it is just wonderful,” said Frazier. “I was telling my students about her, that she is a Memphis girl. It is so inspiring and refreshing that this young lady from Memphis just grew and blossomed, receiving this kind of recognition.”

Katori’s other works include the award-winning “Hurt Village,” “Hoodoo Love,” “Saturday Night/Sunday Morning,” “Our Lady of Kibeho,” and “The Blood Quilt.” She also is the director of the award-winning short “Arkabutla”.

“I think it is notable that she embraces the Memphis community in her work,” said Thompson, her former high school guidance counselor. “Her work is centered on putting Memphis in the spotlight. I am so proud of her right now. That Pulitzer is well deserved.”

Hall, 40, is married to Alan Tumusiime. They have two children.

The Pulitzer Prize was established in 1917 by Joseph Pulitzer and recognizes achievements in journalism, literature, drama and music composition.

The award is administered by Columbia University. This year’s awards luncheon, typically held at Columbia, is delayed until the fall.