When Seattle’s Seayoung Yim learned that she had been awarded the 2022 Yale Drama Series Prize, a prestigious annual, international award that recognizes an unproduced play from an emerging playwright, she was in “complete shock.” Yim’s “Jar of Fat,” which explores desire, ugliness and beauty through the lens of a fantastical fairy-tale world, was selected out of more than 1,500 entries. Her win includes receiving the David Charles Horn Prize of $10,000 as well as publication of her winning play by Yale University Press and a staged reading.

“I know some folks who’ve won in the past and I’ve read their work and I’m just — I remember submitting going, ‘There’s no way, but I should just practice submitting,’” said Yim.

Historically, winners have been hand-picked by a prestigious playwright judge like Pulitzer Prize recipients Paula Vogel, Ayad Akhtar, Marsha Norman and Edward Albee. In a first, this year’s winner was decided by a body of six past prize winners: Neil Wechsler, Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, Virginia Grise, Jacqueline Goldfinger, Leah Nanako Winkler and Rachel Lynett.

“Just being in the company of these writers has just been — I’m still processing,” Yim said. “These are people I really look up to.”

Yim noted in a recent conversation that, ever since the announcement in late March, she’s received more emails than she ever had before, both from publications and from other artists looking to meet or read more of her work. Much has changed for Yim, 40, who found herself not doing much theater after graduating with her bachelor’s degree in drama from the University of Washington in 2004.

After graduation, Yim struggled to find space for herself in the theater world. Instead, she wound up getting involved in nonprofit and activist spaces like MomsRising, Asian Pacific Islander Community Leadership Foundation and Social Justice Fund Northwest. As she spent time in these and other organizations, she was able to learn more about Korean history from the progressive Koreans she was able to meet in Seattle. From these experiences, she was able to gain the confidence to start figuring out how to tell her own stories and begin her journey to writing plays from her own Korean American experience.

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Yim started taking adult playwriting classes taught by fellow Seattle playwright Stephanie Timm, workshopping plays that would then be featured in public readings.

“And that was just like — it felt so cool,” Yim said. “Like, I wrote that and someone else is saying it, but they’re saying it way better than I thought it would come out.”

Yim was able to write her first full-length play, “Do It For Umma,” which she describes as “an absurd tragicomedy about a young woman trying to gain her mother’s approval and protect her family’s honor.” The production was pitched to Annex Theatre, where she was paired with Broadway-bound Seattle theater artist Sara Porkalob. With Porkalob as director, the play premiered in 2016 to full audiences, running on off nights at Annex when the mainstage show wasn’t performing. Yim called it a “magical experience” to work with Porkalob, who Yim said showed a deep understanding of her sense of humor and the heart of her stories.

“I felt like Sara, even though we’re not from the same ethnic community, just being Asian American, she got my story and there were so many things that she understood without me having to explain,” said Yim.

That first play received the People’s Choice Award for Outstanding New Play at Theatre Puget Sound’s Gregory Awards and the Gypsy Rose Lee award for excellence in local playwriting from Seattle Theater Writers. Since then, she’s been produced around the city, including a 2018 run of her play “Persimmon Nights” at Cafe Nordo, again with Porkalob at the helm. Yim also credits writing groups like SIS Writers Group and Theatre Battery for helping her development over the years.

“I feel like community really helped me build my confidence,” Yim said. “All the people that I did activism work with would come out to the plays too, and that just meant so much to me.”

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By 2019, Yim was off to Brown University, where she’s now set to receive her master’s in playwriting later this year. Her first year in the program featured an early workshop production of her now award-winning “Jar of Fat.” Yim credited graduate school — and the fact that it’s fully funded, providing health insurance and a stipend, allowing her to focus on writing — for encouraging her experimentation and allowing her the space to explore questions and topics that are meaningful to her.

“I’m just tired of fatphobia,” Yim said of developing “Jar of Fat.” “Just to be burdened with constantly worrying about what I look like or how much I’ve gained or lost, it’s just become this weight that I don’t want to deal with anymore. So ‘Jar of Fat’ was sort of like my rage exploded, but I wanted to do it with comedy. That’s usually my genre or method of dealing with difficult topics because it’s already onerous and tedious to think about.”

Yim describes “Jar of Fat” as a darkly comedic Korean American fairy tale exploring both the allure and danger of the quest for beauty and thinness. The absurdist, comedic play follows two Korean American sisters who are deemed too fat to fit in their family grave and whose bond is put to the test under the pressure of their community and parents, who spare no effort to get them tinier.

“Reading the play felt like a conversation, like the playwright was daring me to play along,” said judge Lynett, who won 2021’s Yale Drama Series Prize, in a statement. “I’m always asking myself, ‘What have I never seen before? What voices are missing from theater?’ This play felt radical, but also simply so honest it couldn’t be ignored.”

Yim is looking to continue this play’s journey at Vermont’s Northern Stage as part of its “New Works Now” program this summer (postponed from last winter due to the surge of coronavirus). As for next steps in Yim’s career, she’s looking to get a manager and agent and exploring venturing into television. Still, as she reflected on her journey to this point, Yim gave much credit to Seattle for her opportunity to grow.

“Much love to Seattle,” Yim said. “I wouldn’t have gotten here without Seattle’s community.”