Elaine May has been named the 2016 recipient of the Writers Guild of America’s lifetime achievement award. She will be presented with the Laurel Award for Screenwriting Achievement at the WGA Awards on February 13.
WGAW President Howard A Rodman noted, “Elaine May defines the phrase ‘smart and funny.’ From the Compass Players to Nichols & May to ‘A New Leaf’ and ‘The Heartbreak Kid’ and ‘Mikey and Nicky,’ she invented a strain of knowing, painful, ironic humor that quickly became central to what we now think of as comedy. She’s received Oscar nominations and WGA nominations and Writers Guild Awards, all well-deserved; but it is time to recognize, plainly and simply, the debt that all of us owe to her brave, groundbreaking, fiercely intelligent, deeply human, relentlessly honest, scorchingly funny work.”
May received the National Medal of Arts in 2013 and has been a WGAW member since 1962.
It’s well worth remembering, though, that May once also enjoyed a promising directing career in the ’70s, with films like “A New Leaf,” “The Heartbreak Kid” and “Mikey and Nicky,” until “Ishtar” landed her in what filmmaker Mimi Leder calls “director jail,” a women-only institution where it’s one strike and you’re out.
The last female winner of the Laurel Award for Screenwriting Achievement was Betty Comden in 2001, a prize Comden shared with her writing partner Adolph Green. The last sole female winner was Ruth Prawer Jhabvala in 1994.