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April 6, 2017

Award-Winning Playwright, 17, Shines Spotlight on Marginalized People


Phanesia Pharel is just 17 and already has won some of the biggest awards for playwriting.

She was a first-place playwright at the Florida State Festival; a first-place playwright at the Miami District Festival — twice; and the youngest playwright to be placed in the Best of the Best showcase at Micro Theater for her play “Shovel Me Away.”

She said her mother is a writer, too, and that literature has always been in her life.

“As I grew older, the more I encountered and realized the weight of black womanhood, I felt that my story was not being told and that someone needed to talk about what we are facing, so I wrote ‘Penelope,’ ” she said. “From there, I continued to write about marginalized people. I write for the people who cried when ‘Moonlight’ won Best Picture. I write for the little black girl who feels bored in her English classes because I have often been in that place.”

A senior at South Dade Senior High School in Homestead, Phanesia recently was recognized with the second-runner-up award for her essay on why a STEAM education is important. The acronym stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and math. STEAM-based curriculum has rapidly been adopted at schools around the country.

The latest honor is from Democracyworks, the national student essay writing contest hosted each year by Educational Theatre Association (EdTA) to “shine a light on issues that impact theater and other arts education.”

Phanesia focused on the importance of persistence, risk and failure in the sciences.

“Each skill in STEAM requires mass memorization and the ability to form connections through analysis. Offering young people the opportunity to form connections in multiple ways; from biology and engineering to theatre, music, and writing will make analysis and problem solving more fulfilling for more students,” she wrote in her essay.

In the fall, she will attend Barnard College of Columbia University.

“So now it’s time to hunt down scholarships! My most recent play, ‘A Zoo Story,’ talks about human captivation and the ugliness of people zoos and social Darwinism. This play received first place at the district festival and we will see how it goes next week at the state festival,” she said.

An advocate for community service as well, Phanesia said she is starting a media site for young women that encompasses various artistic mediums. She won the Carlos Curbelo award in community service, and is a Silver Knight nominee in Drama for her Adopt-A-Grandparent program at Homestead Manor.

“The arts have always been my cushion,” she said. “There is no better feeling than watching one of my plays performed. I feel that I can build a better world in my writing and that I can challenge the one we live in.”

Reprint with permission from the Miami Herald

Each year, Samuel French works in partnership with EdTA to sponsor the Thespian Playworks program. High school students currently enrolled in an International Thespian Society troop can submit scripts that run no more than 30 minutes. Winners will have their works staged at the week long Thespian Festival in June and will later be printed in a Samuel French anthology. Learn more about Phanesia, one of the 2016 winners here and purchase her script here.