About the Fund

Our vision

Ideally, we’d live in a world free from white supremacy, patriarchy, and exploitation by capitalism. The reality is that we don’t. And unfortunately, writers, too, are not immune to structural oppression.

Our mission

The Leah Ryan Fund helps sustain and support writers facing individual challenges and systemic oppression so they can keep writing, connecting, creating, and thriving.

Our values

The Leah Ryan Fund reflects the values that Leah herself possessed:

  • We believe in fierce artistic integrity, resilience of spirit, and authenticity of voice.
  • We reward excellence as expressed through the mastery of form.
  • We embrace the world with outrage, humor, and compassion.
  • We acknowledge our complicity in the systems of oppression and resist injustice.
  • We practice direct and honest communication.

Leah Ryan’s Fund for Emerging Women Writers (FEWW) was established in 2008 to honor the memory of Leah Ryan, a woman of letters who wrote plays, poetry, essays, lyrics, adaptations, and collaborated with performance artists. The Fund offers an annual playwriting prize and the annual Vladimir award

Leah Ryan’s FEWW is administered through the Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley.

Advisory committee

The advisory committee is comprised of colleagues who worked with Leah, and friends and fans who admired her work. They are:

  • Arlene Avakian

    Arlene is emeritus professor and founder of the Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is the author of Lion Woman’s Legacy: An Armenian American Memoir (1992), Turkish translation and publication forthcoming; editor of Through the Kitchen Window: Women Explore the Intimate Meanings of Food and Cooking (1997, 2005), and co-editor of From Betty Crocker to Feminist Food Studies: Critical Perspectives on Women and Food (2005) as well as many articles and conference presentations. She is currently working on a book of conversations with two colleagues from Turkey, one of whom had a grandmother who was a survivors of the Armenian genocide.  Arlene is Leah Ryan’s mother.

  • Edward Cheetham

    Ed is the Producing Director of the Powerhouse Theater at Vassar College, the place where Ed and Leah met as fellow apprentices in 1991. In 1999 & 2000, Ed directed members of the Training Company in Leah Ryan’s adaptations of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard and The Seagull. Ed is most proud of his work directing many of Leah’s plays: The Jesus Thing, Debt, Bleach and Chopper, to name a few. He also collaborated as the original director of Susan Mele and Leah Ryan’s Just Say Blow Me at theaters and festivals around the country. Ed earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Theater Arts from Niagara University. In addition to his work with the the FEWW, Ed serves as the literary manager of the Leah Ryan estate and is a trustee of the Grinnell Public Library District in his hometown of Wappingers Falls, NY. 

  • Cusi Cram

    Cusi Cram’s plays have been produced by LAByrinth Theater Company, Primary Stages, The Denver Center, South Coast Repertory, The Williamstown Theater Festival, The Atlantic Theater Company, Cornerstone Theater Company, New Georges, and on stages large and petite all over the country. She has written on numerous television programs for both kids and adults and has been nominated for three Emmy Awards for her work on the animated program, Arthur. Her play, Novenas for A Lost Hospital, about St. Vincent’s Hospital in the Village premiered in September, 2019 at Rattlestick Theater directed by Daniella Topol, starring Kathleen Chalfant. Cusi is an Assistant Arts Professor in the Goldberg Department of Dramatic Writing at NYU, Tisch.

  • Dan Gunderman

    Dan is a screenwriter, who has been teaching for the Jacob Krueger Studio since 2016. For more than 12 years, he worked at Big Duck, a Brooklyn-based branding firm that works exclusively with nonprofits, serving as creative director for his final seven years. Prior to Big Duck, he worked as a fundraising and communications consultant at Hall Farm, where he first met Leah. Originally from Kansas and now living in Scotland, Dan graduated from Sarah Lawrence College with a concentration in theater and literature. While in college, more than 15 years before meeting Leah, Dan portrayed Jay in a London production of her play The Jesus Thing.

  • Peter Hirsch

    Peter is a writer of children’s television and is the head writer of the series, “Arthur” and the series “Molly of Denali.” He was won seven Emmy’s and a Peabody Award. He is also an occasional actor, starring in films and the plays of his wife, Cusi Cram.

  • Jennifer Krasinski

    Jennifer Krasinski is a Brooklyn-based writer and critic. She is a senior editor at Artforum, and formerly an art columnist for the Village Voice. A regular contributor to Bookforum, and a contributing editor to Yale University’s Theater magazine, she is on faculty in the MFA Art Writing Department at the School of Visual Arts, and is the recipient of a 2013 Creative Capital / Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant.

  • Tessa LaNeve

    Tessa LaNeve is a script developer and producer who’s worked on and Off-Broadway and internationally as well as in television and film with such artists as Bess Wohl, Lisa Loomer, Cusi Cram, Tanya Barfield, Terrence McNally, Horton Foote, and Tina Howe. She produced the After Orlando Benefit at Philadelphia Theatre Company, MyStory Films for Second Stage Theatre, the 2016 Lilly Awards at Signature Theatre, the 2014 and 2015 Lilly Awards Broadway Cabaret at Birdland, and the 2014 Leah Ryan Benefit at Joe’s Pub. Most recently, she produced the 2017 town hall discussion on curbing gun violence in Wilmington. She has worked at Williamstown, PlayPenn, Geva, The O’Neill, Seven Devils, and previously as the Director of ESPA and New Arts Programming at Primary Stages. She currently teaches high school Drama and moonlights as a doula. She holds a BA from Barnard College and studied Dramaturgy and Script Development at Columbia University’s School of the Arts.

  • Lorna Peterson

    Lorna M. Peterson is Executive Director, Emerita, of Five Colleges, Incorporated. In addition to serving as chair of the Advisory Committee for Leah Ryan’s FEWW, she has also served on a number of community boards including the University of Massachusetts Friends of the Fine Arts Center. She is currently a member of the Board of the National Priorities Project, the Abortion Rights Fund of Western Massachusetts, and the Board of the Greenfield Community College Foundation. She holds a doctorate in Slavic Languages and Literatures from Yale University and has taught in several women’s studies programs at the Five Colleges.

  • Melissa Ross

    Melissa’s plays include Thinner Than Water (LAByrinth Theater Company), A Life Extra Ordinary (The Gift Theatre), Nice Girl (LAByrinth Theater Company), An Entomologist’s Love Story (San Francisco Playhouse), Of Good Stock (South Coast Repertory and Manhattan Theater Club) and The Luckiest (La Jolla Playhouse).  Her plays have been developed and produced around the country at theaters including:  Dorset Theater Festival, Iama Theatre Company, Kitchen Dog Theater, New York Stage and Film, The New Group, Raven Theatre, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, Summer Shorts, and TheatreWorks Palo Alto. She is twice commissioned by both South Coast Repertory and Manhattan Theater Club and is currently commissioned by San Francisco Playhouse and The Raven Theatre.  Melissa is a graduate of Bennington College and the Lila Acheson Wallace Playwriting Program at The Juilliard School, and a proud member of LAByrinth Theater Company.

  • LB Thompson

    LB Thompson’s poetry has won national awards from The Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation and the Rona Jaffe Foundation, and has appeared in the New Yorker and other literary journals. Her collaborative work with artist Ellen Wiener has been exhibited in New York and at Vanderbilt University, and collected by museums and libraries internationally. LB teaches at Suffolk County Community College and The New School/Parsons in New York City. She lives with her wife and book collection in Greenport.