Tony Kushner

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Tony Kushner
Tony Kushner - Hollywood and Socialism - The Laura Flanders Show 2.png
Kushner in 2016
Born (1956-07-16) July 16, 1956 (age 64)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Education Columbia University (BA)
New York University (MFA)
Notable awards Pulitzer Prize for Drama (1993)
Tony Award for Best Play (1993, 1994)
Emmy Award (2004)
St. Louis Literary Award (2012)
(m. 2008)

Anthony Robert Kushner (born July 16, 1956) is an American playwright, author, and screenwriter. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1993 for his play Angels in America , then adapted it for HBO in 2003. He co-authored the screenplay for the 2005 film Munich , and he wrote the screenplay for the 2012 film Lincoln . Both were critically acclaimed, and he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay for each. 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 Tony-kushner.1978-graduation.jpg
Kushner protesting at Columbia University in 1978

Kushner was born in Manhattan, 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 and Poland. [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] 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 back 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. [9] 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; [10] in 2006 an honorary doctorate from Brandeis University, in 2008 an honorary Doctor of Letters from SUNY Purchase College, [11] in May 2011 an honorary doctorate from CUNY's John Jay College of Criminal Justice and also an Honorary Doctorate from The New School, [12] and in May 2015, an honorary Doctor of Letters from Ithaca College. [13] [14]


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 . [15] The screenplay for Lincoln would go on to receive multiple awards, in addition to nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay at the Golden Globes and The Oscars. [16]

In a 2015 interview actress/producer Viola Davis revealed she had hired Kushner to write an as yet untitled biopic about the life of Barbara Jordan that she planned to star in. [17]

In 2016, Kushner worked on a screenplay version of August Wilson's play Fences ; the resulting film Fences , directed by Denzel Washington, was released in December 2016.

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. [18] 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 before it finally opened on May 15, 2009.

In 2018, it was announced that Kushner was working on a script of a remake of West Side Story for Spielberg to direct. [19]

Political views

Kushner speaking at the University of Maryland in 2011. Tony Kushner..jpg
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, [20] 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. [21] 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." [22] 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. [23] Kushner has even received backlash from family members due to his political views of Israel. [24]

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

On May 2, 2011, the Board of Trustees [25] 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. [26] [27] 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. [28] Three days later, CUNY issued a public statement that the Board is independent. [29] On May 6, three previous honorees stated they intended to return their degrees: Barbara Ehrenreich, Michael Cunningham and Ellen Schrecker. [11] Wiesenfeld 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. [30] The same day, the board of trustees moved to reverse its decision. [31] Kushner accepted the honorary doctorate at the June 3 graduation for the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. [32]

Kushner was quoted in the 2010 book It All Changed in an Instant: More Six-Word Memoirs on page 76. His six-word memoir was "At least I never voted Republican."

Personal life

Kushner and his partner, Mark Harris, held a commitment ceremony in April 2003, [33] the first same-sex commitment ceremony to be featured in the Vows column of The New York Times . [34] Harris is an editor of Entertainment Weekly and author of Pictures at a Revolution – Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood. He is close friends with theatre director Michael Mayer, whom he met while studying at NYU. [35]

In summer 2008, Kushner and Harris were legally married at the town hall in Provincetown, Massachusetts. [36]

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, January 7, 1998; New York: Joseph Papp Public Theater, June 19, 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) [37]
  • 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 [38]

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:
  • 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, March 27, 1994, p. H5.
  • "The State of the Theatre". Times Literary Supplement, April 28, 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, November 3, 1997: 4–5.
  • "Matthew's Passion". Nation, November 9, 1998
  • "A Modest Proposal". American Theatre, January 1998: 20–22, 77–89.
  • "A Word to Graduates: Organize!". Nation, July 1, 2002.
  • "Only We Who Guard The Mystery Shall Be Unhappy". Nation, March 24, 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 (2003) – 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 (uncredited, co-written by August Wilson), co-producer
  • West Side Story , a film by Steven Spielberg (2021) – screenplay


Awards and nominations


See also

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  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. August 29, 1990.
  4. Miller, Gerri (October 23, 2014). "'Finding Your Roots' explores Jewish genealogy". Jewish Journal . Retrieved June 5, 2018.
  5. Harris, Paul (May 5, 2011). "University snub for 'anti-Israel' playwright Tony Kushner". The Guardian . Retrieved June 5, 2018.
  6. Berrin, Danielle (November 29, 2011). "Tony Kushner awarded $100,000 prize for challenging status quo". Jewish Journal. Retrieved June 5, 2018.
  7. Kellaway, Kate (May 14, 2017). "Tony Kushner: 'To love someone puts you at the risk of loss'". The Guardian. Retrieved June 5, 2018.
  8. Stated on Finding Your Roots , PBS, November 4, 2014
  9. "Tony Kushner".
  10. "Library".
  11. 1 2 Tony Kushner row deepens as supporters renounce honorary degrees, The Guardian , May 6, 2011
  12. "POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE". The New Yorker. June 6, 2011.
  13. Ithaca College Honorary Degree Recipient Tony Kushner's Commencement Speech. YouTube. May 18, 2015.
  14. "Commencement – Ithaca College" (PDF).
  15. Yin, Maryann (May 14, 2011). "Steven Spielberg & Tony Kushner To Adapt Team of Rivals". Mediabistro. Archived from the original on April 17, 2011. Retrieved May 5, 2011.
  16. Lincoln , retrieved January 19, 2018
  17. SYME, RACHEL. "Viola Davis, on Finding Creative Space in TV With No Limitations" . Retrieved August 27, 2015.
  18. Lucas, Craig. "Tony Kushner", "BOMB Magazine", Spring, 1993. Retrieved July 25, 2011.
  19. Jr, Mike Fleming (January 19, 2018). "Steven Spielberg Eyes Indiana Jones & 'West Side Story' Atop Next Directing Vehicles". Deadline. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  20. David Zax and Ted Merwin, (2007), The Playwright's Politics Moment Magazine
  21. Angels in America
  22. Shayndi Raice. "Brandeis graduation honoree draws fire." The Jewish Advocate. May 4, 2006.
  23. Cynthia Ramsey (August 24, 2007). "Tony Kushner as film subject". Jewish Independent. Archived from the original on November 7, 2007.
  24. David Zax and Ted Merwin (2007), The Playwright's Politics Moment Magazine
  25. The Board of Trustees, UNY
  26. Podcast: Board of Trustees Public Hearing, May 2, 2011 (1:04:00-1:14:00), CUNY , May 2, 2011
  27. Transcript of CUNY Trustee’s Speech on Kushner Award, The New York Times , May 6, 2011
  28. Kushner Crisis (blog) Archived May 8, 2011, at the Wayback Machine , CUNY GC Advocate
  29. Statement on Honorary Degrees at the City University of New York, CUNY , May 5, 2011
  30. Shamir, Shlomo; Mozgovaya, Natasha (May 6, 2011). "CUNY trustee: Kushner must renounce anti-Israel statements to get honorary degree". Haaretz. Retrieved December 26, 2011.
  31. Hu, Winnie (May 6, 2011). "After Reversal, Honor Is Likely for Kushner". The New York Times.
  32. "Dramatist Alludes to Dispute as He Accepts CUNY Honor". New York Times. June 3, 2011.
  33. Lois Smith Brady (May 4, 2003). "Weddings/Celebrations: Vows; Mark Harris and Tony Kushner". The New York Times. Retrieved December 21, 2008.
  34. McCarter, Jeremy (May 28, 2009). "Tony Kushner's Day: The playwright at the heart of America's cultural moment". Newsweek. Retrieved May 5, 2011.
  36. Stockwell, Anne (October 8, 2012). "Love Stories: Tony Kushner and Mark Harris". Advocate. Retrieved October 12, 2012.
  37. Jonathan Kalb (August 6, 2006). "Still Fearsome, Mother Courage Gets a Makeover". The New York Times. p. 2.4. Retrieved December 21, 2008.
  38. "Tiny Kushner: An Evening of Short Plays". Guthrie Theater. Retrieved December 26, 2011.
  39. Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship Archived July 10, 2010, at the Wayback Machine , official website.
  40. "Saint Louis Literary Award – Saint Louis University". Archived from the original on August 23, 2016. Retrieved July 25, 2016.

Further reading

  1. Dickinson, Peter (January 1, 2005). "Travels with Tony Kushner and David Beckham, 2002–2004". Theatre Journal. 57 (3): 429–450. doi:10.1353/tj.2005.0096. JSTOR   25069672. S2CID   154406689.