This past month, creative writing Professor and critic Patricia Keeney was named winner of the prestigious Nathan Cohen Award for Theatre Criticism (short category) for 2011-12 by the Canadian Theatre Critics Association (CTCA).
The award was presented to Keeney for a double review she wrote of two major Broadway hits, Jerusalem (starring Mark Rylance)and The Motherf***er With the Hat (starring Chris Rock). The winning review appeared in the CTCA’s online web journal.
“Winning this Nathan Cohen Award is a special honour,” said Keeney of the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. “Cohen, former critic at the Toronto Star, believed deeply in the importance of the critic and he maintained standards despite enormous pressures to give in to commercial concerns. The year before he died, he was actually here at York teaching a criticism course in the Department of Theatre where he tried to impress that on young writers. I couldn’t be more delighted that this award is in his name.”
Keeney (right) receives the Nathan Cohen Award from the Canadian Theatre Critics Association (CTCA). Playwright Judith Thompson (left) and The Globe and Mail theatre critic J. Kelly Nestruck (centre) also received CTCA awards
This is Keeney’s second award for criticism this year. Earlier in the fall she was lauded for her critical writing on poetry by the journal Arc for her major piece on this past year’s Governor General-nominated volumes of poetry.
Keeney, a long-time professor in York’s English and humanities departments, has an equally long career as a freelance critic in both theatre and literary areas. Her work has appeared in a wide range of journals and magazines including, in theatre, Canadian Theatre Review, Scene Changes and Maclean’s and, in literary criticism, Canadian Forum (where she was poetry editor), Canadian Literature, Canadian Poetry and the University of Toronto Quarterly.
Keeney is also a prolific poet and novelist with 10 volumes of poetry and a novel to her credit. This past year she brought out two new poetry volumes – First Woman (Inanna Press) and You Bring Me Wings (Antares Publishing House of Spanish Culture),a collaboration of poems and conversation in Spanish and English with Mexican poet Ethel Krauze. She is currently working on a new novel connected to the life of the Virgin Mary, a new volume of poetry based on ancient Greek concepts of the universe and has another novel, One Man Dancing (about a Ugandan actor working during the reign of dictator Idi Amin) making the rounds of publishing houses.
This is the first time that a piece initially published online has taken the Nathan Cohen Award, which was judged this year by Robert Cushman, critic for the National Post (and a six-time Cohen winner himself) and Kamal Al-Solaylee, a professor of journalism at Ryerson University and a former critic for The Globe and Mail.
Two other major theatre awards were also presented during the same ceremony – one to Globe and Mail critic J. Kelly Nestruck for critical writing (long category) and one for Distinguished Contribution to the Canadian Theatre (the Herbert Whittaker Award) to playwright Judith Thompson.
“Many have said that applied criticism is a dying field,” said Keeney. “But art and criticism are creative partners. Artists need intelligent and articulate response to their work for it to progress and grow. Some of us have actually learned from good criticism. The democratic world of online critical writing is one that is fraught with danger for artists and critics alike. Though there are fewer and fewer outlets for genuine criticism these days, those that do exist become all the more valuable. And real critics will continue to find them.”