Meet the Shortlist- Tori Sampson

This Land was Made
By Tori Sampson

‘But you want to lay a truth on me and then ask me to shut up about it. Go against my nature. Feed you, starve myself. So you get all the light and I’m left with heavy. Your heavy.’ 

Oakland, 1967. In Miss Trish’s bar, local 20-somethings work, study, fight, fall in love and dream of a different world. On the streets, the Black Panther Party is organizing armed patrols against police brutality. John Frey, an on-duty officer, will soon be shot and killed. Huey Newton, the co-founder of the Black Panthers, will be charged and stand trial for his murder.

A Boston native, Tori Sampson’s plays include IF PRETTY HURTS UGLY MUST BE A MUHFUKA (Playwrights Horizons, 2019), THIS LAND WAS MADE (Vineyard Theatre: Lab, 2018), and CADILLAC CREA (Yale Repertory Theater, 2019). Her plays have been developed at Great Plains Theatre Conference, Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s The Ground Floor residency program, Victory Garden’s IGNITION Festival of New Plays, Playwrights Foundation, and Ubuntu Theater. Tori is a 2017–18 Playwright’s Center Jerome Fellow and a 2018-19 McKnight Fellow. Two of her plays appeared on the 2017 Kilroys List. Her awards and honors include the 2016 Relentless Award, Honorable Mention; the 2016 Paula Vogel Award in Playwriting from The Kennedy Center; the Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award, Second Place; the Alliance Theater’s 2017 Kendeda Prize, Finalist; the 2018 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, Finalist and the recipient of the 2018 National Theater Conference’s, Paul Green Award. Tori, is currently working on commissions from Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Yale Repertory Theatre, Atlantic Theater Company and Playwrights Horizon. She holds a BS in sociology from Ball State University and an MFA in playwriting from Yale School of Drama.


Tori is eligible for the new Bruntwood Prize International Award. For more information on this award- and the nomination process please go to


What inspired you to write this play?

The Black Panthers are a part of my cultural and familial history and this particular case, Huey standing trial for the murder of a police officer, sort of offers justice that we rarely see in the United States these days. I wanted to discuss the fraught and very long history of Black/ Brown people and law enforcement. I wanted to dissect the language used to either defend the killing of citizens and the language used by those who fear law officials. I wanted to take a look at who deserves national sympathy and who receives it. Words matter so much. This is a play about the language we use to defend ourselves, our actions, and our beliefs.


Can you tell us a bit about your journey as a playwright?

I wrote one play. That play got me into Yale School of Drama. At school I practiced how to write more plays. I began the journey of discovering who I am as a playwright and what stories I endeavour to tell. It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions and knowledge but I’m committed to continuing this journey.


How do you feel about being shortlisted?

I feel truly blessed. It’s a privilege to write for a living and to have people actually want to engage with your thoughts is an amazing feeling. I work really diligently on the stories I put into the world and I really appreciate when they are appreciated. This, being shortlisted, is a moment of appreciation.


What do you think about anonymity of the Bruntwood Prize?

I think I like it. It offers folks a chance to put their work out there without the worry of “Am I a big enough name?” I love that aspect of it.



Like all the international entrants to this years Prize- THIS LAND WAS MADE went though the same anonymous reading process as every script entered into the Bruntwood Prize. However, we did separately commission Tori to write a piece in our blog series from writers in 2018. Check it out here:

Published on:
30 Oct 2019 Watch video


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