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Joaqlin Estus
Indian Country Today

Playwright Larissa FastHorse, Sicangu Lakota Nation, has been named a recipient of the MacArthur Foundation “genius” award. It comes with a no-strings-attached grant of $625,000 disbursed over five years.

The award recognizes individuals who show “exceptional creativity in their artistic, intellectual and professional pursuits which help resolve historical issues, refine knowledge and improve the world for everyone,” said the foundation.

FastHorse said her Lakota heritage inspires and saturates every aspect of her work. She lives in Santa Monica, California, with her husband, sculptor Edd Hogan.

“From the beginning of my career, it’s been important to find ways to include Indigenous people and populations into my work, creating works that not only tell Indigenous stories and use Indigenous ways of thinking, but they also provide greater access to them to have agency over the way that they’re portrayed,” FastHorse said in a MacArthur Foundation video.

Her plays employ comedy and satire to explore topics such as racism, genocide and violent colonial expansion, foster care, youth activism and federal recognition.

According to her website, FastHorse’s 2018 satirical comedy “The Thanksgiving Play” (Playwrights Horizons/Geffen Playhouse) was one of the country’s top 10 most produced plays. “She is the first Native American playwright in the history of American theater on that list,” the site said.

FastHorse said she uses Indigenous people in almost all of her works. Too often, she said, the arts community only takes from Indigenous communities, and doesn’t give them a voice in how they want to be represented to the world.

“It’s incredible how many people don't think that we're contemporary, living, breathing people and just want to view us from the past,” she said.

She said her last three plays engaged communities to tell their own stories. Her process also involves connecting with local Indigenous people in the places where her plays are being produced, to make sure they’re engaged with the theater and are given the “space to represent themselves in the way they want to.”


FastHorse said she feels fortunate to be walking down the road paved by Indigenous playwrights as far back as the 1950s and ’60s and wants to encourage other Indigenous people to follow the same path.

She holds writing workshops with Indigenous youth across the country, rural and urban.

“I do tons and tons of writing workshops with them because theater is just people talking. You don't need special equipment. You don't need cameras. You don't need a sound system. You don't need anything.

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“You just need two people or one person telling their story. And that's something we've been doing forever.”

She said getting the MacArthur award is “incredible.” She said until just two years ago she and her artist husband were living below the poverty line.

“Knowing that we can just pay our bills is already something we can't fully wrap our brain around. And we're still just trying to adjust to that idea. And then beyond that, we’re going to take a little time to figure out how we're wanting to use the money and what special projects we want to do.”

She said the income will give her the freedom to help others as well.

“I have so much gratitude that so many Indigenous people trust me to help them tell their stories. You know, this is not something I do alone. It's something that's done in community, and I'm really grateful that folks … feel like the work I'm doing is worth investing in for the future. And I'm excited to see where it takes us all together.”


FastHorse’s produced plays also include “What Would Crazy Horse Do?” (KCRep), “Teaching Disco Square Dancing to Our Elders: a Class Presentation” (Native Voices at the Autry), and “Cherokee Family Reunion” (Mountainside Theater).” Other productions include “Urban Rez,” and “Native Nation.”

In addition to the MacArthur award, FastHorse has been recognized with national arts funding from Creative Capital, MAP Fund, NEFA, First People’s Fund, the NEA Our Town Grant, Mellon Foundation, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and others.

Her work has been commissioned by Yale Rep, the Guthrie, Geffen Playhouse, History Theater, Kennedy Center TVA, Kennedy Center TYA, Baltimore’s Center Stage, Arizona Theater Company, Mixed Blood, Perseverance Theater Company, the Lark Playwrights Week, the Center Theater Group Writer’s Workshop, and Berkeley Rep’s Ground Floor.

She is also the recipient of numerous awards, including the PEN/Laura Pels Theater Award, Sundance/Ford Foundation Fellowship, and UCLA Native American Program Woman of the Year. FastHorse owns a consulting company, Indigenous Direction, “for companies and artists who want to create accurate work about, for and with Indigenous Peoples'."

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Joaqlin Estus, Tlingit, is a national correspondent for Indian Country Today, and a longtime Alaska journalist.

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