Michael R. Jackson

By clothing bracing and irreverent truths in song and wit, Michael R. Jackson lifts us into worlds more vibrant and malleable than any we inhabit from day to day, infusing musical theater’s capacity to liberate with a fierce, joyful transgression.

Born in Detroit, Michigan in 1981, Michael R. Jackson is a composer, lyricist, and playwright. His 2020 musical, White Girl in Danger, is inspired by a plethora of pop culture influences, from Lifetime original movies of the 1990s with titles like Mother, May I Sleep With Danger and She Cried No to that most serial of serial forms, the daytime soap opera of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. The play’s protagonist is a young Black woman who longs to be as in distress and un-stoical as her white counterparts—a narrative situation revealing Jackson’s real affection for his sources even while he subverts them, often for sharply humorous ends. A Strange Loop (2019), which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama (2020), asks questions about identity—particularly Black male queer identity—in telling the story of a twenty-something Black gay man named Usher who, appropriately, works as an usher during a run of The Lion King on Broadway. Usher constantly obsesses over “the latest draft of his self-referential musical”; that musical, like the one he is in, is called A Strange Loop. This doubling, even tripling, of references is just one of the devices that Jackson deploys to recreate the strange and cruel hall of mirrors that is Usher's selfhood. Bawdy, bright, and brutal, by turns anguished and joyful, Jackson’s work reflects our own reality even while it tries to create possibilities for better, more expansive worlds. The recipient of many awards, including a Lambda Literary Award for Drama (2020), a Helen Merrill Award for Playwriting (2019), and a Whiting Award (2019), Jackson holds a BFA in Playwriting and an MFA in Musical Theater Writing from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Words cannot adequately express what an honor and thrill it is to be the first musical theater writer recipient of the prestigious Windham-Campbell Prize. In a culture preoccupied with "representation" and "content creation," this award feels like a validation of my preoccupation with pushing the boundaries of form as I attempt to untangle some of the deeper questions and contradictions of our rapidly changing world. MICHAEL R. JACKSON