University of Pittsburgh
April 26, 1998


Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH, April 27 -- Javon Johnson, a University of Pittsburgh graduate student and member of Pitt's Kuntu Repertory Theatre (KRT), is the winner of the 1998 Lorraine Hansberry National Playwriting Award sponsored annually by the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.

An Anderson, South Carolina native, Johnson is the second Pitt student to win the Hansberry Award. Pitt graduate Marta Effinger received the award in 1991 for her play "Union Station."

The award is named for Lorraine Hansberry, the first Black playwright to win the New York Drama Critics Award for "A Raisin in the Sun," which opened on Broadway in 1959. Recipients of the Hansberry Award receive a $2,500 prize and an internship to the National Playwrights Conference at the O'Neil Theater Center.

Johnson, who teaches a Pitt undergraduate course in theater arts, received the award for "Papa's Blues," produced by KRT under the assistance of Vernell A. Lillie, KRT's founder and director. "Papa's Blues" is an exploration into the cycles of manhood of the African American male," said Johnson of his first full-length play. "It reveals the anxieties that plague him when he is faced with taking that long dark journey into manhood."

Not only is Johnson an award-winning playwright, but also a talented actor who received excellent reviews in KRT's 1998 production of Pearl Cleage's "Blues for an Alabama Sky," directed by Lillie. His television and film credits include Sport'n Life in "Porgy: A Gullah Version," for SC Educational Television and Wachiti Warrior in "Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls."

Johnson is a graduate of Westside High School in Anderson, SC and received his BA from South Carolina State University of Orangeburg.

In 1994 two other Pitt students received recognition in the Hansberry competition: Sybil Berry's "Miracle Church" placed second and Greg Allen's "Traces" placed third. KRT produced all of the winning and recognized plays and Lillie assisted each of the playwrights in their creative efforts.