For those who think drama is a lost art, the transcendent work of Chicago playwright Ike Holter will prove them wrong. Holter’s writing, which often depicts real community issues like public education and gay rights, earned him the Windham–Campbell Literature Prize for Drama in 2017. While Holter is known as a Chicago playwright, he was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota and cites the iconic Guthrie Theatre as an early influence. When he moved to Chicago, he found it was easy to find a community of ambitious people who created Chicago’s Jackalope Theatre out of an old storage unit. The Jackalope Theatre is the site of many of his early dramatic works.
Holter chooses to write material that puts him out of his comfort zone. As a black, gay writer, he’d rather write about people of other races, cultures, and backgrounds. His interest in writing about unique individuals led him to penning Hit the Wall in 2013. The play depicts different perspectives on the Stonewall Riots that occurred at the Stonewall Inn on June 27, 1969. It was a huge hit in Chicago and was Holter’s first work to hit Off-Broadway. Holter brought his talent back home in 2014 with Exit Strategy, a play about a struggling Chicago public school. Chicago students, teachers, parents, and even the Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis attended the play to see their real-life struggles enacted onstage with heart, depth, and a fresh voice. This work of poetic, lyrical drama earned Holter the title of Chicagoan of the Year in Theater in 2014.
Holter’s most recent play, The Wolf at the End of the Block, depicts the senselessness of violence in Chicago. It debuted in February 2017 at the Richard Christiansen Theater. After winning the Windham–Campbell Literature Prize, Holter says he plans to simply keep working and meeting deadlines in the writing business. The Windham–Campbell Literature Prizes, regarded as one of the richest prizes in the community, are awarded annually to writers for their “literary achievement or promise.” The prize includes a check for $165,000, which is meant to support the writer on their future endeavors in their field. Other 2017 winners include novelist André Alexis and writer/activist Erna Brodber.