Tony Kushner

Tony Kushner

Kushner in 2016
Born Anthony Robert Kushner
(1956-07-16) July 16, 1956
New York City, New York, U.S.
Occupation Playwright, screenwriter
Alma mater Columbia University
New York University
Spouse Mark Harris (m. 2008)
Magnum opus Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes
Awards Pulitzer Prize for Drama (1993)
Tony Award for Best Play (1993, 1994)
Emmy Award (2004)
St. Louis Literary Award (2012)

Anthony Robert "Tony" Kushner (born July 16, 1956) is an American playwright and screenwriter. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1993 for his play Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes. He co-authored with Eric Roth the screenplay for the 2005 film Munich, and he wrote the screenplay for the 2012 film Lincoln, both critically acclaimed movies, for which he received Academy Award nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay. For his work, he received a National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama in 2013.[1]

Early life and education

Kushner protesting at Columbia University in 1978

Kushner was born in Manhattan, New York, the son of Sylvia (née Deutscher), a bassoonist, and William David Kushner, a clarinetist and conductor.[2][3] His family is Jewish, descended from immigrants from Russia/Poland.[4] Shortly after his birth, Kushner's parents moved to Lake Charles, Louisiana, the seat of Calcasieu Parish where he spent his childhood. During high school Kushner was active in policy debate. In 1974, Kushner moved to New York to begin his undergraduate college education at Columbia University, where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Medieval Studies in 1978.[5] He attended the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU, graduating in 1984. During graduate school, he spent the summers of 1978–1981 directing both early original works (Masque of the Owls and Incidents and Occurrences During the Travels of the Tailor Max) and plays by Shakespeare (A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest) starring the children attending the Governor's Program for Gifted Children (GPGC) in Lake Charles.

Kushner has received several honorary degrees: in 2003 from Columbia College Chicago;[6] in 2006 an honorary doctorate from Brandeis University, in 2008 an honorary Doctor of Letters from SUNY Purchase College,[7] in May, 2011 an honorary doctorate from CUNY's John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and in May 2015, an honorary Doctor of Letters from Ithaca College.[8][9]


Kushner's best known work is Angels in America (a play in two parts: Millennium Approaches and Perestroika), a seven-hour epic about the AIDS epidemic in Reagan-era New York, which was later adapted into an HBO miniseries for which Kushner wrote the screenplay. His other plays include Hydriotaphia, Slavs!: Thinking About the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness, A Bright Room Called Day, Homebody/Kabul, and the book for the musical Caroline, or Change. His new translation of Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children was performed at the Delacorte Theater in the summer of 2006, starring Meryl Streep and directed by George C. Wolfe. Kushner has also adapted Brecht's The Good Person of Szechwan, Corneille's The Illusion, and S. Ansky's play The Dybbuk.

In the early 2000s, Kushner began writing for film. His co-written screenplay Munich was produced and directed by Steven Spielberg in 2005. In January 2006, a documentary feature about Kushner entitled Wrestling With Angels debuted at the Sundance Film Festival. The film was directed by Freida Lee Mock. In April 2011 it was announced that he was working with Spielberg again, writing the screenplay for an adaptation of historian Doris Kearns Goodwin's book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.[10]

In a 2015 interview actress/producer Viola Davis revealed she had hired him to write an as yet untitled biopic about the life of Barbara Jordan that she planned to star in.[11]

In 2016, Kushner worked on August Wilson's screenplay for Fences, scheduled for release in December 2016, based on Wilson's play of the same name. The film is directed by Denzel Washington.

Kushner is famous for frequent revisions and years-long gestations of his plays. Both Angels in America: Perestroika and Homebody/Kabul were significantly revised even after they were first published. Kushner has admitted that the original script version of Angels in America: Perestroika is nearly double the length of the theatrical version.[12] His newest completed work, the play The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures, began as a novel more than a decade ago. Said work finally opened on May 15, 2009.

Political views

Kushner speaking at the University of Maryland in 2011.

Kushner's criticism of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians and of the increased religious extremism in Israeli politics and culture has created some controversy with U.S. Jews,[13] including some opposition to his receiving an honorary doctorate at the 2006 commencement of Brandeis University. The Zionist Organization of America unsuccessfully lobbied the university to rescind its invitation to Kushner.[14] During the controversy, quotes critical of Zionism and Israel made by Kushner were circulated. Kushner said at the time that his quotes were "grossly mischaracterized." Kushner told the Jewish Advocate in an interview, "All that anybody seems to be reading is a couple of right-wing Web sites taking things deliberately out of context and excluding anything that would complicate the picture by making me seem like a reasonable person, which I basically think I am."[15] In an interview with the Jewish Independent, Kushner commented, "I want the state of Israel to continue to exist. I've always said that. I've never said anything else. My positions have been lied about and misrepresented in so many ways. People claim that I'm for a one-state solution, which is not true." However, he later stated that he hopes that "there might be a merging of the two countries because [they're] geographically kind of ridiculous looking on a map," although he acknowledged that political realities make this unlikely in the near future.[16]

Kushner has even received backlash from family members due to his political views of Israel.[17]

Kushner receiving a National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama, 2013

On May 2, 2011, the Board of Trustees[18] of the City University of New York (CUNY), at their monthly public meeting, voted to remove (by tabling to avoid debate) Kushner's name from the list of people invited to receive honorary degrees, based on a statement by trustee Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld about Kushner's purported statements and beliefs about Zionism and Israel.[19][20] In response, the CUNY Graduate Center Advocate began a live blog on the "Kushner Crisis" situation, including news coverage and statements of support from faculty and academics.[21] Three days later, CUNY issued a public statement that the Board is independent.[22] On May 6, three previous honorees stated they intended to return their degrees: Barbara Ehrenreich, Michael Cunningham and Ellen Schrecker.[7] Wiesenfeld has said that if Kushner would renounce his anti-Israel statements in front of the board of trustees, he would be willing to vote for him.[23] The same day, the board of trustees moved to reverse its decision.[24]

Personal life

Kushner and his spouse Mark Harris held a commitment ceremony in April 2003,[25] the first same-sex commitment ceremony to be featured in the Vows column of The New York Times.[26] Harris is an editor of Entertainment Weekly and author of Pictures at a Revolution – Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood.

In summer 2008, Kushner and Harris were legally married at the city hall in Provincetown, Massachusetts.[27]

List of works


  • The Age of Assassins, New York, Newfoundland Theatre, 1982.
  • La Fin de la Baleine: An Opera for the Apocalypse, New York, Ohio Theatre, 1983.
  • The Heavenly Theatre, produced at New York University, Tisch School of the Arts, 1984.
  • The Umbrella Oracle, Martha's Vineyard, The Yard, Inc..
  • Last Gasp at the Cataract, Martha's Vineyard, The Yard, Inc., 1984.
  • Yes, Yes, No, No: The Solace-of-Solstice, Apogee/Perigee, Bestial/Celestial Holiday Show, produced in St. Louis, Imaginary Theatre Company, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, 1985, published in Plays in Process, 1987.
  • Stella (adapted from the play by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe), produced in New York City, 1987.
  • A Bright Room Called Day, first produced in New York, Theatre 22, April 1985. Published in Plays By Tony Kushner, Broadway Play Publishing Inc.
  • In Great Eliza's Golden Time, produced in St. Louis, Missouri, Imaginary Theatre Company, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, 1986.
  • Hydriotaphia, produced in New York City, 1987 (based on the life on Sir Thomas Browne)
  • The Illusion (adapted from Pierre Corneille's play L'illusion comique; produced in New York City, 1988, revised version produced in Hartford, CT, 1990), Broadway Play Publishing Inc., 1991.
  • In That Day (Lives of the Prophets), New York University, Tisch School of the Arts, 1989.
  • (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.
  • Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, Part Two: Perestroika, produced in New York City, 1992.
  • Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes (includes both parts), Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1995.
  • Slavs! Thinking About the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness, Theatre Communications Group, 1995 & acting edition, Broadway Play Publishing Inc..
  • Reverse Transcription: Six Playwrights Bury a Seventh, A Ten-Minute Play That's Nearly Twenty Minutes Long, Louisville, Humana Festival of New American Plays, Actors Theatre of Louisville, March 1996.
  • A Dybbuk, or Between Two Worlds (adapted from Joachim Neugroschel's translation of the original Yiddish play by S. Ansky; produced in New York City at the Joseph Papp Public Theater, 1997), Theatre Communications Group, 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, 1998.
  • Terminating, or Lass Meine Schmerzen Nicht Verloren Sein, or Ambivalence, in Love's Fire, Minneapolis, Guthrie Theater Lab, 7 January 1998; New York: Joseph Papp Public Theater, 19 June 1998.
  • Henry Box Brown, or the Mirror of Slavery, performed at the National Theatre, London, 1998.
  • Homebody/Kabul, first performed in New York City, December 2001.
  • Caroline, or Change (musical), first performed in New York at the Joseph Papp Public Theater, 2002.
  • (Director)Ellen McLaughlin, Helen, produced at the Joseph Papp Public Theater, 2002.
  • Only We Who Guard The Mystery Shall Be Unhappy, 2003.
  • Translation with “liberties”—but purportedly “not an adaptation”—of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children (2006)[28]
  • The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures Minneapolis, Guthrie Theater, 2009.
  • Tiny Kushner, a performance of five shorter plays, premiered at the Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis, 2009[29]

the stage performance rights to most of these plays are licensed by Broadway Play Publishing Inc.


  • A Meditation from Angels in America (1994) Harper, San Francisco, ISBN 0-06-251224-2
  • Thinking about the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness: Essays, a Play, Two Poems, and a Prayer ( 1995) Theatre Communications Group, New York, NY ISBN 1-55936-100-X
  • Howard Cruse (1995) Stuck Rubber Baby, introduction by Kushner,Paradox Press, New York. ISBN 1-4012-2713-9
  • David B. Feinberg (1995) Queer and Loathing: Rants and Raves of a Raging AIDS Clone, introduction by Kushner, Penguin, New York. ISBN 0-14-024080-2
  • David Wojnarowicz (1996) The Waterfront Journals, edited by Amy Scholder, introduction by Kushner, Grove, New York. ISBN 0-8021-3504-8
  • "Three Screeds from Key West: For Larry Kramer," (1997) in We Must Love One Another or Die: The Life and Legacies of Larry Kramer, edited by Lawrence D. Mass, St. Martin's Press, New York, pp. 191–199. ISBN 0-312-22084-7
  • Moises Kaufman (1997) Gross Indecency, afterword by Kushner, Vintage, New York, pp. 135–143. ISBN 0-8222-1649-3
  • Plays by Tony Kushner (New York: Broadway Play Publishing, 1999), ISBN 0-88145-102-9. Includes:
    • A Bright Room called Day (First published 1994)
    • The Illusion, freely adapted from Pierre Corneille's L'Illusion comique
    • Slavs! Thinking About the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness
  • Death & Taxes: Hydrotaphia, and Other Plays, (1998) Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), ISBN 1-55936-156-5. Includes:
  • Brundibar, illustrated by Maurice Sendak, Hyperion Books for Children, 2003.
  • Peter's Pixie, by Donn Kushner, illustrated by Sylvie Daigneault, introduction by Tony Kushner, Tundra Books, 2003
  • The Art of Maurice Sendak: 1980 to the Present, 2003
  • Save Your Democratic Citizen Soul!: Rants, Screeds, and Other Public Utterances
  • Wrestling with Zion: Progressive Jewish-American Responses to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, with Alisa Solomon, Grove, 2003.


  • "The Secrets of Angels". The New York Times, 27 March 1994, p. H5.
  • "The State of the Theatre". Times Literary Supplement, 28 April 1995, p. 14.
  • "The Theater of Utopia". Theater, 26 (1995): 9-11.
  • "The Art of the Difficult". Civilization, 4 (August/September 1997): 62-67.
  • "Notes About Political Theater," Kenyon Review, 19 (Summer/Fall 1997): 19-34.
  • "Wings of Desire". Premiere, October 1997: 70.
  • "Fo's Last Laugh--I". Nation, 3 November 1997: 4-5.
  • "Matthew's Passion". Nation, 9 November 1998
  • "A Modest Proposal". American Theatre, January 1998: 20-22, 77-89.
  • "A Word to Graduates: Organize!". Nation, 1 July 2002.
  • "Only We Who Guard The Mystery Shall Be Unhappy". Nation, 24 March 2003.

Other works

  • La Fin de la Baleine: An Opera for the Apocalypse, (opera) 1983
  • St. Cecilia or The Power of Music, (opera libretto based on Heinrich von Kleist's eighteenth-century story Die heilige Cäcilie oder Die Gewalt der Musik, Eine Legende)
  • Brundibar, (an opera in collaboration with Maurice Sendak)
  • Angels in America, a miniseries by Mike Nichols (2002) - teleplay
  • Munich, a film by Steven Spielberg (2005) – screenplay (co-written by Eric Roth)
  • Lincoln, a film by Steven Spielberg (2012) – screenplay
  • Fences, a film by Denzel Washington (2016) - screenplay (co-written by August Wilson, uncredited)


Awards and nominations



  1. "White House to honor Star Wars' Lucas, playwright Kushner among others".
  2. Fisher, James (2001). The Theater of Tony Kushner: Living Past Hope. Psychology Press. ISBN 978-0-8153-3150-6.
  3. "Sylvia Deutscher Kushner, Bassoonist, 65". The New York Times. 29 August 1990.
  4. Stated on Finding Your Roots, PBS, November 4, 2014
  5. "Tony Kushner".
  6. "Library".
  7. 1 2 Tony Kushner row deepens as supporters renounce honorary degrees, The Guardian, 6 May 2011
  8. Ithaca College Honorary Degree Recipient Tony Kushner's Commencement Speech. YouTube. 18 May 2015.
  9. "Commencement – Ithaca College" (PDF).
  10. Yin, Maryann (14 May 2011). "Steven Spielberg & Tony Kushner To Adapt Team of Rivals". Mediabistro. Retrieved 5 May 2011.
  11. SYME, RACHEL. "Viola Davis, on Finding Creative Space in TV With No Limitations". Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  12. Lucas, Craig. "Tony Kushner", "BOMB Magazine", Spring, 1993. Retrieved July 25, 2011.
  13. David Zax and Ted Merwin, (2007), The Playwright's Politics Moment Magazine
  14. Angels in America
  15. Shayndi Raice. "Brandeis graduation honoree draws fire." The Jewish Advocate. May 4, 2006.
  16. Cynthia Ramsey (August 24, 2007). "Tony Kushner as film subject". Jewish Independent.
  17. David Zax and Ted Merwin (2007), The Playwright's Politics Moment Magazine
  18. The Board of Trustees, UNY
  19. Podcast: Board of Trustees Public Hearing, May 2, 2011 (1:04:00-1:14:00), CUNY, 2 May 2011
  20. Transcript of CUNY Trustee’s Speech on Kushner Award, The New York Times, 6 May 2011
  21. Kushner Crisis (blog), CUNY GC Advocate
  22. Statement on Honorary Degrees at the City University of New York, CUNY, 5 May 2011
  23. Shamir, Shlomo; Mozgovaya, Natasha (May 6, 2011). "CUNY trustee: Kushner must renounce anti-Israel statements to get honorary degree". Haaretz. Retrieved December 26, 2011.
  24. Hu, Winnie (6 May 2011). "After Reversal, Honor Is Likely for Kushner". The New York Times.
  25. Lois Smith Brady (4 May 2003). "Weddings/Celebrations: Vows; Mark Harris and Tony Kushner". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-12-21.
  26. McCarter, Jeremy (May 28, 2009). "Tony Kushner's Day: The playwright at the heart of America's cultural moment". Newsweek. Retrieved 5 May 2011.
  27. Stockwell, Anne (October 8, 2012). "Love Stories: Tony Kushner and Mark Harris". Advocate. Retrieved October 12, 2012.
  28. Jonathan Kalb (2006-08-06). "Still Fearsome, Mother Courage Gets a Makeover". The New York Times. p. 2.4. Retrieved 2008-12-21.
  29. "Tiny Kushner: An Evening of Short Plays". Guthrie Theater. Retrieved December 26, 2011.
  30. Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship, official website.
  31. "Saint Louis Literary Award – Saint Louis University".

Further reading

External links

  1. Dickinson, Peter (1 January 2005). "Travels with Tony Kushner and David Beckham, 2002–2004". Theatre Journal. 57 (3): 429–450. JSTOR 25069672.
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