Topics: College of Fine Arts, Immersive Learning
May 15, 2015
Jennifer Blackmer is shown with Nate Eppler, the playwright in residence at the Nashville Repertory Theatre. The photo is a playful take on one of Blackmer's plays, “Unraveled.” For more information read the article on PEN.org. (Photo by Brit Knapp of Doerman Photography.)
Jennifer Blackmer has just snagged one of the most prestigious awards in her field but believes she's still getting her feet wet as a playwright.
"My graduate degree is in directing," says Ball State's director of immersive learning. "I'm quite new to writing plays."
Already nationally lauded, Blackmer is the 2015 recipient of the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award, Emerging American Playwright.
"It's one of the most surreal moments of my career," she says. "It's assuring to know I've touched on something with my storytelling that's moved strangers."
Along with the Pulitzer Prize, the PEN Awards are among the most respected literary honors bestowed upon American writers. The awards are presented within 11 categories — from fiction and nonfiction to poetry and drama — in recognition of writers' artistry and the social engagement of their work.
Upon learning of her nomination, Blackmer submitted to PEN Foundation judges "Human Terrain." The play tells the story of a female anthropologist who is embedded with a military unit and faces harsh consequences after becoming friends with an Iraqi woman.
"It's one of the most surreal moments of my career. It's assuring to know I've touched on something with my storytelling that's moved strangers."
— Jennifer Blackmer,
director of immersive learning and associate professor of theater
It's these types of stories — ones involving ethical dilemmas and "big idea" questions — that most excite Blackmer. "I like telling stories of people doing their best to navigate the complexities of the human condition," she says.
An associate professor of theater, Blackmer has written six plays in her short but prodigious career so far.
Among them are "Unraveled," the story of a philosophy professor coming to terms with the death of her mother; "Alias Grace," an adaptation of a Margaret Atwood novel to be staged by Ball State theater students in 2016; and "Delicate Particle Logic," which explores the relationship between science and art through the story of the discovery of nuclear fission.
Bill Jenkins, chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance, says Blackmer's national recognition showcases what friends and students have long known.
"She's an unparalleled artist, an outstanding member of our theater family," Jenkins says, citing the numerous awards for teaching and creative endeavors Blackmer has earned in the 12 years she's worked at Ball State.
Blackmer admits winning the PEN Award means she's begun fielding calls from agents, producers and directors who now want to work with her.
"I'm excited for the doors it can open for me," she says, "for its ability to allow my work to reach a wider audience."
Says Michael O'Hara, associate dean of the College of Fine Arts and Sursa Distinguished Professor of Fine Arts: "Jen's career will be forever changed by this."
About Jennifer Blackmer
Number of plays written: six
Number of immersive learning projects she's led: four (two at the Virginia B. Ball Center for Creative Inquiry, which she directs)
Places her plays have been staged: New York, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Berkeley, St. Louis
Favorite playwrights: Tony Kushner, Suzan-Lori Parks
Favorite novel: Carl Sagan's “Contact”
Advice to writers: "I know a lot of my students have heard the adage 'Write what you know' but I don't agree with that. What I tell them instead is 'Write what you want to know.'"
Though her creative star is on the rise, Blackmer says she has no plans of leaving her role as educator anytime soon. Her work across all fields is, as she puts it, "intensely connected."
"I learn more from my students than I could from any two-week workshop on craft," she explains. "My writing informs my teaching, and my teaching informs my writing."
Blackmer's work as playwright also inspires her role as champion of Ball State's approach to entrepreneurial learning.
"The projects that put Ball State on the map, the ones that employ creative ways for our students to connect with and change the world, are what best exemplify what we do in the arts."