Announcing Dena Igusti as the Inaugural Ryan Hudak LGBTQ+ Playwright Award Recipient

Announcing Dena Igusti as the Inaugural Ryan Hudak LGBTQ+ Playwright Award Recipient
Image: Dena Igusti (Ryan Hudak Award '23), Photo Credit: A. Prince Edwards

Igusti recognized with $10,000 cash grant open to New York State playwrights who identify as LGBTQ+.

The New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) has announced Dena Igusti as the inaugural recipient of its Ryan Hudak LGBTQ+ Playwright Award, a $10,000 cash grant awarded to one (1) New York State-based playwright who identifies as LGBTQ+. 

The annual award honors the life and work of playwright Ryan Hudak, who tragically passed away in May 2022 at age 32 after a long battle with Leukemia. In addition to his work as a playwright, Ryan was a theater maker, filmmaker, and a valued member of NYFA’s staff, serving on the executive and development teams.

Dena Igusti is an Indonesian Muslim writer born and raised in Queens, NY. They are the author of Cut Woman (Game Over Books, 2020), which has been listed as a 2022 Perennial Award Winner, 2020 Harvard Bookstore Staff Pick, and included in Entropy Mag’s Best Of 2020-2021; and I Need This to Not Swallow Me Alive (Gingerbug Press, 2021). They are the co-playwright of the wish: a manual for a last-ditch effort to save abortion in the united states through theater (2023 A is For Play Winner). They are the founder of Dearest Mearest, a multimedia platform for arts and arts accessibility. 

Igusti’s work has been featured in BOAAT Press, Peregrine Journal, Colorbloq, and several other publications. Their work has been produced and performed at the Los Angeles Times, The Brooklyn Museum, The Apollo Theater, Women Deliver, the 2018 Teen Vogue Summit, Players Theatre (SHARUM, 2019), Prelude Festival (Cut Woman, 2020), Center At West Park (CON DOUGH, 2021), The Tank (First Sight 2021 at LimeFest), The Public (BLISS at Breaking The Binary Theatre Festival, 2023), and several other venues internationally.

A performer singing off to the distance as three performers in the background, blurred, sit side by side.
Image Detail: Dena Igusti (Ryan Hudak Award ’23); “First Sight;” 2023; play, SheNYC Festival at Connelly Theater; Photo Credit: Danielle DeMatteo

Their recent awards and accolades include grants from the NYC Women’s Fund for Media, Music and Theatre and Queens Arts Fund, and fellowships including the Asian American Writers’ Workshop Open City Fellowship, Culture Push Fellowship, More Art Engaging Artist Fellowship, and the NeXt Doc Fellowship, among others. They are a Converse All Stars Artist.

“We’re thrilled to announce Dena as the inaugural recipient of this very special award,” said Michael Royce, CEO of NYFA. “We thank Ryan’s parents Pat and Tom Hudak for their generosity in supporting this award, and hope that this award helps Dena to evolve and grow in their work. It is a fitting tribute to Ryan and his passion for LGBTQ+ storytelling,” he added.

Said Igusti upon receiving the Ryan Hudak LGBTQ+ Playwright Award: “Receiving this grant affirms my ability to show up as all of myself in my work. To be queer, Indonesian, Muslim, born and raised in Queens in spaces that expect me to exist only as one version of myself. I will be able to create more stories that center and honor the late 80’s and early 90’s migration of queer Indonesians to Queens, NY, creating odes to the communities I grew up with that are often overlooked.”

Funding for this award is provided by Ryan’s parents, Pat and Tom Hudak; individual donors; and the philanthropic community. Those interested in contributing funds to this annual award may donate here

About Ryan Hudak:

Ryan Hudak was a gay playwright, theater maker, and filmmaker, proud of his Hispanic and European heritage.

Ryan’s play The Firewatchers won him a scholarship to Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), where he graduated with an MFA degree in dramatic writing. His play Robbie Alex Cooper was a 2018 finalist in the prestigious Eugene O’Neill playwriting competition. While an undergrad at Long Island University, he was involved in the development of and acted in the play Remembering Antigone, which was awarded a Kennedy Center honor for best reimagining of a classic play.

Ryan wrote to give the LGBTQ+ community more stories that connect them to world history and culture, which he felt has largely been sanitized by today’s culture. Ryan developed and taught a course on the History of gay theater when he attended CMU, which he eventually taught at Lehman College. He would have continued teaching the course at Long Island University except for the fate of his illness.

Ryan’s work came out of his struggles with his sexuality as a young man. He found a connection through fantasy and period novels, tales of outsiders banding together to defeat a foe or families moving through generations. As a result, his plays tended to be set in their own created worlds, pulling influences from gay culture and literature, giving gay characters more complex stories.

Find out about additional awards and grants here. Sign up for our free bi-weekly newsletter to receive announcements about future NYFA events and programs.

Amy Aronoff
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