James Ijames, MFA, assistant professor of theatre, says a friend describes his plays as “hammer-funny.” They strike hard with humor to break through the audience’s bias and preconceived ideas, allowing incisive themes of race, gender and socioeconomic class to enter.

Turns out “hammer-funny” breaks down critics, too—one of Ijames’ recent works, Kill Move Paradise, was awarded the National Arts Club’s 2018 Kesselring Prize, which honors and supports emerging playwrights in the development of their work. As a result, Ijames earned $25,000 from the Club Kesselring Fund and the chance to have a two-week residency to develop his work at the organization’s historic clubhouse in New York City. The club also staged readings and scenes from Ijames’ plays in November.

In Kill Move Paradise, four black men find themselves stuck in a cosmic waiting room in the afterlife. Inspired by the slayings of unarmed black men around the country, Ijames describes his play as “a portrait of the slain, not as degenerates who deserved death, but as heroes who demand that we see them for the splendid beings they are.” Despite the characters’ unjust killings, they become symbols of hope and hint toward society’s collective transformation.

Critics and audiences beyond the region have taken notice of Ijames, who acts, directs and writes plays. His play White is set to premiere in the UK at the Edinburgh University Theatre Company. The New York Times included Ijames on its list of “Black Male Writers for Our Time,” “who are producing literature that is essential to how we understand our country and its place in the world right now.”

His most recent play, Youth, was staged at the Villanova Theatre in the spring. The play follows a group of young people questioning what they know about themselves and weaves together magical realism and rousing, gospel-inflected songs in a heartfelt exploration of living and loving in a world where anything is possible.

One young male crouched over a long list printing and a man in a suit standing against a stark white background
One young boy in a striped shirt holding a bright green toy gun and three other young men in the background
A view of four young men from the back running up a stark white ramp
Young man in sweatpants and bright red Nikes laying with eyes closed in front of a printer printing a long list of names

First debuted at the National Black Theatre in Harlem, N.Y., Kill Move Paradise tells the story of four young black men stuck in a cosmic waiting room in the afterlife.


...It radiates an urgent and hypnotic theatrical energy.”

Ben Brantley, The New York Times review of Kill Move Paradise

Playwriting Awards

2018 Kesselring Prize, given by the National Arts Club

2017 Whiting Award, given by the Whiting Foundation

2015 Terrence McNally New Play Award

2015 Pew Fellowship in the Arts for Playwriting

2011 F. Otto Haas Award for an Emerging Artist

2011 Independence Foundation Fellowship in Performing Arts