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Tony Kushner (1956-) Biography

Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights

Born 1956, in New York, NY. Education: Columbia University, B.A., 1978; New York University, M.F.A., 1984.


Office—Walter Kerr Theatre, 225 West 48th St., New York, NY 10036. Agent—Joyce Ketay Agency, 1501 Broadway, Ste. 1908, New York, NY 10036.


United Nations Plaza Hotel, New York, NY, switchboard operator, 1979-85; St. Louis Repertory Theatre, St. Louis, MO, assistant director, 1985-86; New York Theatre Workshop, New York, artistic director, 1987-88; Theatre Communication Group, New York, director of literary services, 1990-91; Juilliard School of Drama, New York, playwright-in-residence, 1990-92. Guest artist at New York University Graduate Theatre Program, Yale University, and Princeton University, beginning 1989.


AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP).

Honors Awards

Directing fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts, 1985, 1987, 1993; Princess Grace Award, 1986; playwriting fellowship, New York State Council for the Arts, 1987; John Whiting Award, Arts Council of Great Britain, 1990; Kennedy Center/American Express Fund for New American Plays Awards, 1990, 1992; Kesserling Award, National Arts Club, 1992; Will Glickman playwriting prize, 1992; London Evening Standard Award, 1992; Pulitzer Prize for drama, Antoinette Perry Tony Kushner ("Tony") Award for best play, and New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best New Play, all 1993, all for Millennium Approaches, Part One of Angels in America; American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, 1994; Tony Award for best play, 1994, for Perestroika, Part Two of Angels in America; Lambda Literary Award, Drama, 1994, for Angels in America; Lambda Literary Award, Lesbian and Gay Drama, 1996, for Thinking about the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness: Essays, a Play, Two Poems, and a Prayer; Village Voice Off-Broadway ("Obie") Award, 2002, for Homebody/Kabul.



Yes, Yes, No, No (juvenile; produced in St. Louis, MO, 1985), published in Plays in Process, 1987.

Stella (adapted from the play by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe), produced in New York, NY, 1987.

Hydriotaphia, produced in New York, NY, 1987.

The Illusion (adapted from Pierre Corneille's play L'illusion comique; produced in New York, NY, 1988, revised version produced in Hartford, CT, 1990), Broadway Play Publishing, 1991.

A Bright Room Called Day (produced in San Francisco, CA, 1987), Broadway Play Publishing, 1991.

(With Ariel Dorfman) Widows (adapted from a book by Ariel Dorfman), produced in Los Angeles, CA, 1991.

Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, Part One: Millennium Approaches (produced in San Francisco, 1991), Hern, 1992, Part Two: Perestroika (produced in New York, NY, 1992), both parts published in one volume, Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1995.

Slavs! Thinking about the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness, Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1995.

A Dybbuk; or, Between Two Worlds (adapted from Joachim Neugroschel's translation of the original play by S. Ansky; produced in New York, NY, at Joseph Papp Public Theater, 1997), Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1997.

The Good Person of Szechuan (adapted from the original play by Bertolt Brecht), Arcade, 1997.

(With Eric Bogosian and others) Love's Fire: Seven New Plays Inspired by Seven Shakespearean Sonnets, Morrow (New York, NY), 1998.

Henry Box Brown; or, The Mirror of Slavery, performed at Royal National Theatre, London, England, 1998.

Homebody/Kabul, (produced in New York, NY, 2001), Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 2002, revised version, 2004.

Caroline; or, Change (musical; produced in New York, NY, at Joseph Papp Public Theater, 2002), Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 2004.

Also author of other plays and dramatic adaptations.


A Meditation from Angels in America, HarperSanFrancisco (San Francisco, CA), 1994.

Tony Kushner in Conversation, edited by Robert Vorlicky, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1997.

Death and Taxes: Hydriotaphia, and Other Plays, Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 2000.

(Reteller) Brundibar (based on the opera by Han Krasa and Adolf Hoffmeister), illustrated by Maurice Sendak, Michael di Capua/Hyperion Books for Children (New York, NY), 2002.

(Author of text) The Art of Maurice Sendak: 1980 to the Present, Harry N. Abrams (New York, NY), 2003.

(Editor, with Alisa Solomon, and author of introduction) Wrestling with Zion: Progressive Jewish-American Responses to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Grove Press (New York, NY), 2003.

(Editor with Nadia Valman) Philosemitism, Antisemitism, and "The Jew": Perspectives from Antiquity to the Twentieth Century, Ashgate Publishing (Burlington, VT), 2004.


Angels in America was broadcast on HBO, 2004.


Tony Kushner is a playwright who is well-known for creating provocative dramas that focus on AIDS, politics, and America's gay subculture. His seven-hour drama Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, impressed Broadway audiences when it was produced in the early 1990s, and a touring production of the play continued to win Kushner critical praise on stages worldwide. The play received both the Pulitzer Prize for drama and two Antoinette Perry ("Tony") awards for best play in 1993 and 1994, and was produced for television in 2003. Other plays by Kushner explore political topics; Homebody/Kabul, for example, focuses on the unrest in Afghanistan. In addition to his ongoing work as a playwright, Kushenr has also authored a book for children titled Brundibar, which features illustrations by noted illustrator Maurice Sendak.

Kushner was born in New York City in 1956, but grew up in Lake Charles, Louisiana. His parents, both classical musicians, encouraged Kushner and his siblings to explore literature and the arts; the children were given a dollar whenever they had memorized a poem to recite. His mother was also an actress, and her work inspired Kushner to go into a career in theatre.

Kushner began to realize that he was different from most other children at an early age. "I have fairly clear memories of being gay since I was six," the playwright told Richard Stayton in the Los Angeles Times. "I knew that I felt slightly different than most of the boys I was growing up with. By the time I was eleven there was no doubt. But I was completely in the closet." He continued to keep his sexuality a secret throughout his undergraduate years at Columbia University, finally coming to terms with his sexual orientation and informing friends and family in his mid-twenties. Despite this life-altering admission, Kushner's early plays did not focus on gay themes. A Bright Room Called Day concerns a group of liberal-minded acquaintances in the Weimar Republic of Germany, just before the establishment of Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime. The disintegration of their relationships is juxtaposed with a contemporary story that allows Kushner to criticize the policies of the Ronald Reagan administration, which was in power when A Bright Room Called Day was produced.

Angels in America was designed to be performed by eight actors, each of whom perform several roles. In Millennium Approaches, the story focuses on two couples: gay men Louis and Prior, who are dealing with Prior's AIDS, and Harper and Joe, who are married although Joe, is actually gay. Another significant character is lawyer Roy Cohn, a character based on the attorney who helped Senator Joseph McCarthy persecute suspected communists during the 1950s. Millennium Approaches takes its name from the sense of apocalypse the character Prior feels while dealing with his deadly disease. At the end, an angel descends dramatically to visit him, and he is declared a prophet, temporarily, at least, saved from death by AIDS.

The companion play, Perestroika, gets its title from the Russian word ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev used for his proposals for "restructuring" economic and social policies. In the second part of Angels in America, the glorious being that visited Prior at the end of the first part turns out to represent stasis or death, and Prior decides to reject it. In 1995 Kushner wrote and produced a "coda" to Angels in America, Slavs! Thinking about the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness, which Christopher Hawthorne of Salon.com called "a compact, quirky exploration of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ruin, both philosophical and environmental, left in its wake."

While Kushner's work for the stage is interwoven with humor, the author's themes are serious ones: politics, racism, prejudice, and the excessive use of power. He sets those themes aside in writing his book for children, however. In Brundibar he retells the story of the 1938 opera by Czech composer Hans Krasa and Adolf Hoffmeister, which finds two children attempting to get fresh milk for their sick mother. Going to town, they hope to use their singing talent to earn the money needed to buy the milk, but a local organ grinder, unwilling to be upstaged, decides to have some fun at their expense. Each time they sing, the bully raises a loud, discordant bellow, but the children finally gain the help of three animals and a group of young friends to end his efforts. The story of the opera itself has a far-less-happy ending; it was performed by a children's choir at Terezin, a World War II concentration camp; as Sally Lodge noted in Publishers Weekly, "most of the young performers were subsequently deported to Auschwitz, where they died in the gas chambers." Compozer Krasa met the same fate in 1944. The collaboration between Kushner and Sendak came about when Kushner adapted the opera for a Chicago production, and Sendak, inspired by Kushner's rewrite, approached the playwright about a further adaptation, this time as a children's book.

In Brundibar brother and sister Pepicek and Aninku are in need of milk, and Brundibar, while portrayed as a blustering villain vaguely resembling Adolf Hitler, ultimately meets his match when the siblings are joined by hundreds of children who defend their right to sing. While Sendak's use of dialogue balloons and gentle, folklike images of animals and rural landscape uplift the story from its tragic history, characters wearing the yellow Star of David—a symbol required by the Nazis to identify Jews—also appear in the illustrator's pencil and brush artwork. In Booklist Ilene Cooper cautioned that because of the complexity of the story—at one point Pepicek and Aninku are transformed into talking bear—Brundibar "is not for casual reading," although School Library Journal reviewer Steven Engelfried maintained that the illustrations would carry the plot for younger readers. Kushner's "playful language, with occasional rhyme and alliteration," Engelfried wrote, "is a perfect match for Sendak's spirited young heroes," resulting in "an ambitious book that succeeds both as a simple children's story and as a compelling statement against tyranny." "Sendak and Kushner complement each other perfectly as they merge merriment with tragedy and political commentary," concluded a Kirkus Reviews contributor, praising Brundibar as "a stunning piece of art."

Biographical and Critical Sources


American Writers, Supplement IX, Scribner (New York, NY), 2001, pp. 131-149.

Contemporary Dramatists, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 81, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1994.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 228: Twentieth-Century American Dramatists, Gale (Detroit, MI), pp. 144-160.

Drama Criticism, Volume 10, Gale (Detroit, MI), pp. 212-283.

Drama for Students, Volume 5, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999, pp. 1-33.

Geis, Deborah R., and Steven F. Kruger, Approaching the Millennium: Essays on "Angels in America," University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1997.

Savran, David, Speaking on Stage: Interviews with Contemporary American Playwrights, University of Alabama Press (Tuscaloosa, AL), 1996.

Vorlicky, Robert, editor, Tony Kushner in Conversation, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1997.


Advocate, November 17, 1992; December 14, 1993; December 28, 1993; February 5, 2002, Don Shewey, review of Homebody/Kabul, p. 49.

America, May 29, 1993; March 5, 1994, p. 12.

American Theatre, April, 1999, "Tony Kushner in Conversation," p. 45; September, 2000, Irene Oppenheim, "Shedding More Light on Bright Room," p. 75; March, 2002, James Reston, Jr., review of Homebody/Kabul, p. 28.

Back Stage, January 28, 1994, Irene Backalenick, review of The Illusion, p. 60; January 11, 2002, David A. Rosenberg, review of Homebody/Kabul, p. 43.

Back Stage West, September 21, 2001, John Angell Grant, review of The Illusion, p. 24.

Booklist, September 1, 1993; April 15, 1994; January, 1, 1995, review of A Bright Room Called Day, p. 795; April 1, 1995, p. 1372; July, 1998, Ray Olson, review of A Dybbuk pp. 1851-1874; November 15, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of Brundibar, p. 602.

Chicago, September, 1994, p. 37.

Chicago Tribune, May 5, 1993.

Choice, September, 1994, review of Angels in America, p. 198.

Chronicle of Higher Education, September 14, 1994, review of Millennium Approaches, p. A63.

Commentary, January, 1995, p. 51.

Commonweal, February 22, 1991, p. 132; July 16, 1993.

Daily Variety, August 27, 2002, Robert L. Daniels, review of The Illusion, p. 12.

Economist, February 22, 1992; December 4, 1993.

Entertainment Weekly, November 26, 1993.

Horn Book, January-February, 2004, Betsy Hearne, review of Brundibar, p. 69, and Roger Sutton, review of The Art of Maurice Sendak: 1980 to the Present, p. 108.

Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2003, review of Brundibar, p. 1312.

Library Journal, July, 1994, review of Angels in America, p. 94; January, 1998, "Tony Kushner in Conversation," p. 101; September 15, 1999, review of Refugees in an Age of Genocide, p. 99; January, 2004, David A. Berona, review of The Art of Maurice Sendak: 1980 to the Present, p. 103.

Los Angeles Times, May 13, 1990, pp. 45-46, 48; May 6, 1993, pp. F1, F7; December 24, 1995, review of Slavs! Thinking about the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness, p. 11.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 24, 1994, review of Angels in America, p. 12.

Nation, March 18, 1991; February 22, 1993; July 4, 1994; February 6, 1995, p. 177.

National Review, June 7, 1993; January 24, 1994, p. 71.

New Leader, June 14, 1993; December 13, 1993.

New Republic, May 24, 1993; June 14, 1993; December 27, 1993, p. 25; January 30, 1995, p. 30; March 18, 2002, Robert Brustein, review of Homebody/Kabul, p. 27.

Newsweek, May 10, 1993; May 17, 1993; December 6, 1993, p. 83; June 27, 1994, p. 46; December 17, 2001, Marc Peyser, review of Homebody/Kabul, p. 68.

Newsweek International, December 1, 2003, Vibhuti Patel, "Beating up the Bully" p. 65.

New York, January 21, 1991; April 12, 1993; May 17, 1993; December 6, 1993, p. 130; April 4, 1994, p. 74; January 31, 1994, p. 69; December 1, 1997, p. 110.

New Yorker, November 23, 1992, pp. 126-130; May 31, 1993; June 21, 1993; December 13, 1993, p. 129; January 9, 1995, p. 85.

New York Times, January 18, 1990; January 8, 1991, p. C11, C14; March 5, 1992, C1, C21; September 13, 1992; April 14, 1993, p. B6; May 5, 1993; June 7, 1993; November 21, 1993; December 4, 1994; November 17, 1997, p. B2, B5; November 23, 1997, p. AR20; March 1, 1998.

New York Times Magazine, April 25, 1993, pp. 29-30, 48, 56.

Publishers Weekly, June 26, 1995, review of Slavs!, p. 105.

School Library Journal, December, 2003, Steven Engelfried, review of Brundibar, p. 118; April, 2004, Sue Burgess, review of The Art of Maurice Sendak, p. 187.

Spectator, June 1, 2002, Toby Young, review of Homebody/ Kabul, p. 48.

Time, November 23, 1992; May 17, 1993; December 6, 1993; October 27, 2003, Sally Lodge, "Brundibar: A Collaboration with Remarkable Roots," p. 26.

Variety, January 17, 1990; January 14, 1991; July 29, 1991; August 12, 1991; November 16, 1992; May 10, 1993; December 6, 1993; January 24, 1994; May 9, 1994; August 8, 1994; October 17, 1994; October 31, 1994; December 19, 1994, p. 86; February 27, 1995, p. 83; March 6, 1995, p. 71; November 18, 1997; September 2, 2002, Robert L. Daniels, review of The Illusion, p. 33.

Village Voice December 7, 1993; April 18, 1995.

Washington Post, November 7, 1992, p. G1; May 5, 1993, p. B1.

World Literature Today, winter, 1995, review of Angels in America, p. 144; summer, 1996, review of Slavs!, p. 695.


Metro Active Stage Online, http://www.metroactive.com/ (February 11, 2003), "Earth Angel: Tony Kushner Speaks on Art and Politics."

Playbill Online, http://www.playbill.com/ (October 23, 2003), "Kushner's Angels in America Film Debuts in Two Parts on HBO, December 7 and 14."

Salon.com, http://www.salon.com/ (September, 1997), Christopher Hawthorne, review of Slavs!

Steven Barclay Agency Web site, http://www.barclayagency.com/ (February 11, 2003), "Tony Kushner."*

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