- The principal impetus for this prize came from Berlin theater critic Fritz Engel in 1911. Engel felt that, on the 100th anniversary of Heinrich von Kleist's suicide (13 November 1811), never again should a young playwright writing in German die from lack of attention. Engel put together the Kleist Foundation, whose board consisted of several notables, among them Ludwig Barnay, Otto Brahm, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Ludwig Fulda, Max Reinhardt, and Arthur Schnitzler. The foundation itself was made up almost entirely of actors, directors, critics, playwrights, and publishers.All had "progressive" political and artistic agendas in mind when agreeing to membership. The foundation's mission was to provide financial support to struggling male and female playwrights of the German language — though the actual emolument remained relatively small compared to other such prizes.Three women won the prize: Anna Seghers, Else Lasker-Schüler, and Agnes Miegel. Carl Zuckmayer won the prize in 1925, but he dismissed its value because it often signaled to producers and audiences a predilection for left-wing causes. He nevertheless accepted the prize, and the play for which he received it (Der fröhliche Weinberg The Merry Vineyard) went on to earn him thousands of marks. Most often recipients of the prize were supposed to be controversial, or at least unusual. Thus the foundation took the singular step of naming someone to award the prize, rather than awarding it on the basis of a jury vote. For example, Paul Fechter awarded Zuckmayer his prize; Herbert Ihering awarded Bertolt Brecht his; and in 1931 Zuckmayer in turn awarded Ödön von Horvâth the Kleist Prize.The National Socialists disbanded the foundation in 1933, calling attention to "all the Jews and half-Jews on the Foundation's board" and the "decadent writing" the foundation had supported.
Historical dictionary of German Theatre. William Grange. 2006.
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