The David Charles Horn Foundation seeks to invigorate contemporary theater by discovering and celebrating compelling new voices in playwriting through its founding and support of the Yale Drama Series Prize. The Foundation was established in 2003, by Francine Horn, in loving memory of her late husband and business partner, David Charles Horn, a British-born, American citizen, who in his day was not only an internationally sought-after advertising creative director and copywriter, but also a successful publishing entrepreneur. Although his gift for words enabled the couple to live a life full of travel, culture, and beauty, David did not live long enough to realize his long-held dream of seeing his literary work in print. Through this competition the Foundation endeavors to honor David’s unfulfilled dream by publishing the winning manuscript of an emerging playwright as part of the now eminent Yale Drama Series produced by Yale University Press.
Unusual in its openness, the Yale Drama Series Prize annually invites submissions of original, full-length, English-language plays by emerging dramatists from across the globe. Since its launch in 2006, there have been more than 19,000 submissions from 116 countries. An acclaimed American or British playwright serves as judge for a two-year tenure and appoints readers to blindly sift through as many as two thousand submissions, culling them to a more manageable 30 to 50 plays for final anonymous selection by the judge. In addition to its publication, a rarity for an unknown work, the play is given a professional staged reading at a prestigious venue in New York or London, and the playwright receives the David Charles Horn Award of $10,000.
The legendary American dramatist Edward Albee, who served as the first judge for the Yale Drama Series Prize, and remained its guiding light until his death, hailed it for bringing works to light that “stretch the mind.” At a time when the contemporary theater is struggling to become more open and embracing of voices seldom before heard, the Yale Drama Series Prize can proudly state that the majority of its winners have been women from diverse backgrounds, who have tackled rarely explored subjects in deft and commanding ways on the stage. Marsha Norman, the celebrated playwright and a former Yale Drama Series judge, calls the competition “extraordinary… the World Series of plays.”
DAVID CHARLES HORN
A Brit by birth, an American by choice, and a cosmopolitan by nature, David Charles Horn was a man of rare wit, enterprise, and adventure. Born in 1935, he made his mark on the world as an adman during the industry’s postwar heyday. Although he grew up in the charming London suburb of Ealing, he didn’t stay long. Bright and eager to embrace the world, as a young man David snagged an internship at the London office of the legendary ad agency Young & Rubicam. A job in trafficking followed, and then one in copywriting. Before long, he was one of the agency’s rising stars, as adept as a writer, as he was as an image maker.
Keen to prove his creative mettle on a wider stage, in 1961, at age 26, David moved to New York. Not long after his arrival, at the start of the summer season, on a ferry bound for Fire Island, he met Francine Kornsweet, a native New Yorker, who worked in the fashion industry, and fell head over heels in love. A year later, when recruited to serve as the international creative director for Dentsu, the largest ad agency in Tokyo, he and Francine married, and set off for Japan. During the couple’s thrilling two-year stay in that rapidly modernizing, but still tradition-bound capital, David conceived a number of successful advertising campaigns. Among his most notable slogans were “A moment in time brought to you by Bulova” and “The fastest phone booth in the world!” for Japan’s pioneering bullet train.
After their Japanese sojourn, David and Francine planned to settle in London. However, the dismal weather and youthful restlessness had them back on the road within six months touring the Middle East in a Volkswagen Beetle. They eventually landed in Beirut, where David planned to set up an ad agency. Unfortunately, his plans were thwarted by the Six-Day War, which forced the couple to flee the conflict-ridden region through Syria and Turkey, as they made their way back to the safety of Europe. Their next stop was New York, which became their home base.
Before long, David became a fixture among the “Mad Men” of Manhattan’s Madison Avenue. Brimming with energy and invention, he established New Ads USA, an influential trade publication with a circulation in New York and London. He then launched his own creative consultancy, working on top accounts with that era’s most cutting-edge agencies. During this time, Francine returned to fashion, working in various capacities within the industry. However, in 1975, she decided to establish her own fashion trade publication and consultancy in partnership with her husband, which would report on international fashion news and forecast trends. David named their joint venture, Here & There, and it soon became an industry must-read.
The venture was nothing short of a labor of love. Francine and David traveled together to see the collections—Francine reporting on them, and David photographing them, along with street scenes in European cities and the French resort town of St. Tropez, which he considered indicative of fashion trends. David laid out each150-page issue and wrote much of the copy. In addition, he penned each issue’s introductory editorial, commenting not only on the latest industry currents, but also the controversies of the day, from abortion rights and gay marriage to smoking bans and right-wing politics. At turns, charming, penetrating, and provocative, his editorials well lived up to the magazine’s motto: “A fashion view with a point of view.”
The success of the couple’s various endeavors enabled these two cultured and industrious bon vivants to build their contemporary dream house on the Côte d’Azur in the late 1980s. Like all their homes before, this one featured a balcony, which the ever-theatrical David used as a makeshift proscenium, playfully orating to his wife and guests.
While he continued to write the editorial page and headlines for Here & There, David retired from advertising in 1997, so that he might focus on crafting a novel.
He had already written an epic-length book for children, called Charlie for Now, which several editors urged him to trim down to kid size. But when it came to fiction, David insisted on full authorial control–he had had enough of pleasing clients in the ad world! Unfortunately, his intransigence resulted in neither his children’s book, nor his novel, Curls on a Beach Past,ever being published despite interest. Undeterred, he pressed on with yet another novel. But at age 65, he was diagnosed with cancer, and died only a few months later in December 2000.
Losing a husband with such a zest for life and an abundance of talent was a terrible blow for Francine. Their lives had been so deeply intertwined that it took several years before she could embrace life again as an independent spirit. Yet when she did, her first goal was to somehow honor the memory of her husband and all he had achieved through his verbal skills. The David Charles Horn Foundation was thus established with the intention of somehow supporting emerging writers.
Through her trusted friends and lawyers, Alfred Goldfield, a Yale alumnus, and Robert Balsam, Francine was introduced to John Kulka, then a Senior Editor at the Yale University Press, about creating a literary prize in her husband’s name. Kulka suggested launching a prize for emerging playwrights, since they lacked an important competition vehicle for recognition of their dramatic gifts. As it happened, the press was the administrator of one of the most prestigious American literary awards, which is also the oldest, the Yale Series of Younger Poets, and Kulka suggested modeling a drama prize on it. Unique in conception, the Yale Series of Younger Poets is open to all unpublished under-40 poets and judged by a single poet of national distinction. The winner is honored with the publication of their first book-length collection by the Yale University Press. While the judging is highly personal, the list of awardees reads like a veritable Who’s Who of American poetry.
Francine immediately embraced Kulka’s suggestion, and it was soon approved by John Donatich, the director of Yale University Press, who agreed the institution would publish the winning work—a rarity for all but the most famous plays—as part of the new Yale Drama Series and arrange for a staged professional reading, with the playwright receiving the David Charles Horn Prize of $10,000. In 2006, the Yale Drama Series Prize was launched, with Edward Albee serving as the first judge.
While its beginnings were august, the competition is far from a solemn enterprise. According to the great British playwright David Hare, who has served as a judge, it is “tremendous fun to administer, and even greater fun to win.” Which is just as it should be, because the irrepressible David Charles Horn would have had it no other way.