50 Woman Playwrights Every Theatre Person Should Know!

Zach Dulli Archive

by Zach Dulli, The Scene

As we honor Women’s History Month, The Scene is thrilled to spotlight a curated list of 50 women playwrights whose extraordinary talents and contributions have significantly shaped the landscape of theatre. This compilation is a tribute to the diverse voices and narratives that these women have brought to the stage, offering a mix of emotional depth, cultural insight, and pioneering storytelling that continues to captivate and inspire audiences worldwide. While the theatre world is abundant with talented women whose work deserves acclaim, the 50 playwrights featured here stand out for their remarkable influence and the unique perspectives they contribute to the art form. This article serves as an essential guide for every theatre enthusiast eager to explore the rich, varied contributions of women to theatre, acknowledging their indispensable role in its evolution. Through this exploration, we aim to celebrate the breadth and depth of women’s impact on theatre, offering readers an invaluable resource for discovering and appreciating the voices that have helped shape the stage.

The following playwrights are listed in alphabetical order by their first name:

  1. Adrienne Kennedy has consistently broken boundaries with her lyrical dramas, exploring identity and racism with poetic intensity. Check out Ohio State Murders.
  2. Agatha Christie, the queen of mystery, ingeniously entangled audiences in her web of suspense and whodunits on the stage and in her novels. Check out The Mousetrap and Murder On The Orient Express.
  3. Alice Childress offered a groundbreaking perspective on race, class, and gender, challenging societal norms with both humor and gravity. Check out Trouble in Mind and Wine in the Wilderness.
  4. Amy Freed playfully excavates historical and contemporary issues, leaving audiences both enlightened and entertained. Check out Freedomland.
  5. Amy Herzog crafts intimate family dramas with such precision that the personal becomes universal. Check out 4000 Miles and After the Revolution.
  6. Anna Deavere Smith uses her unique brand of verbatim theatre to spotlight American social issues, turning real-life voices into compelling stage narratives. Check out Let Me Down EasyTwilight: Los Angeles, 1992and Notes from the Field.
  7. Anna Ziegler examines complex relationships and ethical dilemmas, weaving science and emotion into her narratives. Check out ActuallyPhotograph 51, and The Last Match.
  8. Annie Baker has an unparalleled knack for finding the profound in the mundane of everyday life, with pauses as powerful as her dialogue. Check out Circle Mirror Transformation and The Flick,
  9. Bess Wohl explores the unspoken and unseen, masterfully using silence to speak volumes in her character-driven plays. Check out Small Mouth SoundsCamp Siegfried, and Grand Horizons.
  10. Beth Henley brings to life the eccentricities of Southern life, blending tragedy and comedy to reveal the resilience of the human spirit. Check out Crimes of the Heart and The Miss Firecracker Contest.
  11. Caryl Churchill is a visionary playwright who constantly reinvents the stage to address feminism, power, and the human condition. Check out Cloud 9Top Girls, and Serious Money.
  12. Chiara Atik captures the zeitgeist of modern love and friendship with a witty and observant eye. Check out Poor Clare and Five Times in One Night.
  13. Clare Barron dives into the messiness of growing up and self-discovery with a rawness that’s both unsettling and refreshing. Check out Dance Nation and You Got Older.
  14. Dael Orlandersmith tells stories of survival and resilience; her poetic monologues are a testament to the strength of the human spirit. Check out The Gimmick and Yellowman.
  15. Dominique Morisseau is a powerful voice for the African American experience; her plays create a vivid picture of people, their homes, and their lives. Check out Detroit ’67Skeleton Crew, and Pipeline.
  16. Erica Schmidt ingeniously adapts and directs, bringing a fresh perspective to classic and contemporary works alike. Check out Mac Beth and Lucy.
  17. Frances Goodrich, alongside her partner, penned one of the most beloved and enduring stage adaptations, bringing Anne Frank’s diary to life. Check out The Diary of Anne Frank.
  18. Gina Gionfriddo dissects societal norms and relationships with razor-sharp wit, leaving audiences both laughing and thinking. Check out Becky Shaw and After Ashley.
  19. 19. Heidi Schreck turns personal history into political discourse, engagingly connecting the past with the present. Check out What The Constitution Means To Me and Grand Concourse.
  20. Jackie Sibblies Drury challenges perceptions of race, history, and theater itself, never afraid to confront uncomfortable truths. Check out Fairview and Really.
  21. Jaclyn Backhaus sails through history and gender with a playful and inventive spirit, reimagining stories old and new. Check out Men on BoatsYou on the Moors Now, and India Pale Ale.
  22. Jocelyn Bioh shines with her vibrant storytelling, celebrating the joy and complexity of African and African American identities. Check out Jaja’s African Hair BraidingSchool Girls; or, The African Mean Girls Play, and Nollywood Dreams.
  23. Kate Hamill revives classic novels with a modern twist, infusing them with feminism and fun. Check out Little WomenPride and PrejudiceSense and Sensibility, and Vanity Fair.
  24. Katori Hall masterfully weaves rich narratives that explore the intersections of race, history, and culture. Her work often highlights the resilience and complexities of the African American experience with a compelling blend of humor and drama. Check out The Mountaintop and The Hot Wing King.
  25. Ketti Frings skillfully crafted narratives that delved into the complexities of human relationships and societal pressures. She often drew on her keen observations of the American experience to create emotionally resonant and critically acclaimed dramas. Check out Look Homeward, Angel.
  26. Kimberly Belflower delves into the myths and realities of youth, crafting stories with both nostalgia and nuance. Check out John Proctor Is the Villain.
  27. Larissa FastHorse highlights Indigenous voices with humor and heart, breaking stereotypes and building bridges. Check out The Thanksgiving Play.
  28. Lauren Gunderson illuminates the stage with her vibrant storytelling. She often focuses on women in science and history and blends wit, humor, and emotional depth to create compelling and thought-provoking plays. Check out Silent SkyThe Book of Will, The Revolutionists, and The Half-Life of Marie Curie.
  29. Lillian Hellman was a trailblazing playwright and screenwriter known for her powerful, politically charged works that explored themes of morality, personal responsibility, and the complexities of human relationships against the backdrop of societal injustices. Check out The Children’s HourThe Lark, and The Little Foxes.
  30. Lorraine Hansberry offered a lens into Black life with unparalleled depth and dignity, leaving a legacy that transcends time. Check out A Raisin In The Sun, and The Sign In Sidney Brustein’s Window.
  31. Lynn Nottage intricately crafts narratives that confront the profound complexities of the human condition, focusing on socio-economic divides, race, and gender through deeply researched and emotionally resonant stories that have earned her critical acclaim. Check out RuinedSweatIntimate Appareland Clyde’s.
  32. Madeleine George merges intellect with emotion, tackling environmental issues and personal relationships with equal passion. Check out The (curious case of the) Watson IntelligencePrecious Littleand Hurricane Diane.
  33. Margaret Edson proved the power of a single, profound play, exploring life, death, and everything in between. Check out Wit.
  34. Marsha Norman captures the fragility and resilience of the human spirit, from the struggles of women to the bonds of family. Check out ‘Night, Mother.
  35. Martyna Majok captures the resilience and vulnerability of the immigrant experience with profound empathy. Through sharply drawn characters and poignant storytelling, she explores themes of displacement, disability, survival, and the pursuit of the American dream. Check out Cost of LivingIronbound, and Sanctuary City.
  36. Mary Chase brought whimsy and warmth to the stage, reminding us of the importance of belief and imagination. Check out Harvey.
  37. Paula Vogel provocatively tackles themes of sexuality, abuse, and societal taboos with daring honesty and imaginative storytelling. Vogel utilizes a blend of humor and tragedy to challenge audiences and inspire dialogue. Check out How I Learned to DriveIndecent, The Baltimore Waltz, and Hot ‘n’ Throbbing.
  38. Rebecca Gilman offers unflinching looks at societal issues, her dramas acting as both a mirror and microscope to the modern world. Check out The Glory of LivingBoy Gets Girl, and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.
  39. Sandy Rustin brings a refreshing blend of humor and heart to the stage, creating engaging, contemporary comedies that explore familial relationships, societal norms, and the quirks of everyday life with a sharp wit and relatable charm. Check out Clue: On StageThe Cottage, and The Suffragette’s Murder.
  40. Sarah DeLappe vividly captures the intricate dynamics and raw intensity of young womanhood, blending authentic dialogue and compelling character development to spotlight the complexities of ambition, loyalty, and identity. Check out The Wolves.
  41. Sarah Ruhl masterfully intertwines the mundane with the magical, crafting lyrical and thought-provoking plays that explore themes of love, mortality, and human connection, often with a whimsical and poignant touch. Check out The Clean HouseIn The Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)and For Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday.
  42. Selina Fillinger captures the zeitgeist with sharp, socially aware dramas that challenge audiences to think critically about their world. Check out POTUS: or, Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive.
  43. Suzan-Lori Parks innovatively deconstructs and reimagines African American history and culture through her groundbreaking narratives, employing a unique voice that blends myth, music, and poetry to challenge and redefine the boundaries of modern theater. Check out Topdog/Underdog and The America Play.
  44. Theresa Rebeck skewers the absurdities of modern life with a biting wit, her characters often navigating the treacherous waters of professional and personal entanglements. Check out The Family of MannBernhardt/Hamletand What We’re Up Against.
  45. Tina Howe paints her stages with the surreal, exploring the beauty and complexity of human relationships through a whimsical lens. Check out Painting ChurchesCoastal Disturbances, and Pride’s Crossing.
  46. Wendy Wasserstein offered insightful commentary on the expectations and realities facing women, her characters navigating the challenges of friendship, career, and family. Check out The Heidi ChroniclesThe Sisters Rosensweig, Third, and An American Daughter.
  47. Yasmina Reza artfully dissects the veneer of civility, revealing the chaotic undercurrents of human relationships with sharp dialogue, humor, and truth. Check out ArtGod of Carnage, and Life X 3.
  48. Young Jean Lee confronts the comfort zones of theatergoers, pushing boundaries with her provocative and challenging work. Check out Straight White Men and Church.
  49. Zoe Akins adapted timeless stories for the stage. Her work was a blend of both romanticism and wit. Check out The Old Maid.
  50. Zona Gale was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Her work captures small-town American life with unique depth and charm. Check out Miss Lulu Bett.

Through their diverse bodies of work, these playwrights have made indelible marks on contemporary theatre. They have opened doors to new worlds, perspectives, and possibilities, challenging audiences to think deeply about their own lives and societies. Their plays have traversed the globe, resonating with audiences on Broadway, London, and beyond, affirming the universal power of storytelling.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, we recognize the contributions of these remarkable women to the tapestry of theatre. They have not only enriched the world of drama but have also paved the way for future generations of playwrights, regardless of gender, to dream, create, and inspire. Their legacy is a vibrant, ever-expanding realm of narrative and form—a testament to the enduring power of the playwright’s pen.

In the end, what binds these playwrights together is not just their gender but their shared commitment to exploring the depth and breadth of human experience. Through laughter and tears, in silence and speech, their works invite us to see the world anew, to reflect on our shared humanity, and to imagine a more compassionate, understanding world. As the curtains rise on stages across the world, the stories told by these influential women playwrights continue to captivate and inspire, proving that the theatre remains a vital, dynamic forum for expressing the most profound truths of our lives.

The Scene Logo

Sign up for a weekly free roundup of the latest news in theatre education

License Harry Potter and The Cursed Child
Join Broadway Book Club