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 VOL. 23, NO. 24JUNE 12, 1998 

Homework in Writing Program Becomes a Play on Broadway

2 Tony Nominations for ‘Honour’ by Joanna Murray-Smith


Although Australian writer Joanna Murray-Smith’s first Broadway play, Honour, opened at the Belasco Theatre on Sun., April 26, it was not—technically—her Broadway debut. That happened some 2-and-a-half years ago in the offices of the Writing Program in Lewisohn Hall.

  She came to Columbia from her native Melbourne on a Rotary International Scholarship. The scholarship would fund her stay in New York while she enrolled in classes at the University and wrote a play, which had been commissioned by an Australian production company.

  The play became Honour, a four-character drama about infidelity. But during her first day on Broadway in September of 1995, Murray-Smith sat, a little lost, in the Writing Program offices as students and professors criss-crossed to and from classes around her, with writing the least of her worries.

  “I was trying to breast feed my 3-months-old baby,” she said; “it was all a bit overwhelming.”

  Her child thrived, and so did she. Murray-Smith took fiction and short prose and screenwriting and, of course, playwriting classes in the Creative Writing Center, part of Columbia’s Continuing Education and Special Programs, which shares faculty with the School of the Arts graduate Writing Division.

  Her professors were no less than novelist A.M. Homes, screenwriter Loren Paul Caplin, short story writer and poet Alan Ziegler and playwright Eduardo Machado; it was in Machado’s class that Murray-Smith wrote the first draft of Honour.

  “The effervescence of being at Columbia was fantastic,” she said. “That was the most wonderful year of my life.” Murray-Smith graciously thanked Ziegler and Machado and the Writing Program in the play’s published version.

  She honed the script in a writing group that she was invited to join by a Columbia alumnus. The group included playwright John Patrick Shanley, who brought Honour to the attention of the New York Stage and Film Festival in Poughkeepsie.

  The work received its first public reading there in the summer of 1996, with Meryl Streep and Sam Waterston taking the principal roles.

  The play’s successful run in Australia last year enticed producers to bring it back to Broadway where it was born.

  In just a month on Broadway, Honour received two Tony Award nominations: Jane Alexander (who marked her return to Broadway with this role), for best actress in a play, and Enid Graham for best featured actress in a play.