Hilton Als began contributing to The New Yorker in 1989, writing pieces for ‘The Talk of the Town,’ he became a staff writer in 1994, theatre critic in 2002, and lead theater critic in 2012. Week after week, he brings to the magazine a rigorous, sharp, and lyrical perspective on acting, playwriting, and directing. With his deep knowledge of the history of performance—not only in theatre but in dance, music, and visual art—he shows us how to view a production and how to place its director, its author, and its performers in the ongoing continuum of dramatic art. His reviews are not simply reviews; they are provocative contributions to the discourse on theatre, race, class, sexuality, and identity in America.
Before coming to The New Yorker, Als was a staff writer for the Village Voice and an editor-at-large at Vibe. Als edited the catalogue for the 1994-95 Whitney Museum of American Art exhibition “Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art.” His first book, The Women, was published in 1996. His book, White Girls, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2014 and winner of the 2014 Lambda Literary Award for Non-fiction, discusses various narratives of race and gender. He wrote the introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of The Early Stories of Truman Capote, and was guest editor for the 2018 Best American Essays. He contributed an essay to Moonlight, a limited edition book about the film of the same name. He wrote Andy Warhol: The Series, a book containing two previously unpublished television scripts for a series on the life of Andy Warhol. His in-progress debut play, Lives of the Performers, has been performed at Carolina Performing Arts and LAXART in Los Angeles. Still developing through a series of workshops, the play examines race, sisterhood, the self, and the forces that threaten to destroy it. He also wrote Edna Lewis a work about the legendary chef that was performed by Carolina Performing Arts. He is currently working on I Don’t Remember (Penguin), a book length essay on his experiences in AIDS era New York. His most recent book, My Pinup, explores desire, Prince, and racism in 48 pages.
In 1997, the New York Association of Black Journalists awarded Als first prize in both Magazine Critique/Review and Magazine Arts and Entertainment. He has received a Guggenheim for creative writing, the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism, the Lambda Literary’s Trustee Award for Excellence in Literature, the Windham Campbell Prize for Nonfiction, the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, the Langston Hughes Medal, and the Clark Prize for Excellence in Arts Writing. He was the inaugural Presidential Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, and also the 2022 Katie Jacobson Writer-in-Residence. He has been voted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters as well as the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2023 he was named the inaugural Hannah and Russel Kully Distinguished Fellow in the History of American Art by the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.
In 2009, Als worked with the performer Justin Bond on “Cold Water,” an exhibition of paintings, drawings, and videos by performers, at La MaMa Gallery. In 2010, he co-curated “Self-Consciousness,” at the VeneKlasen/Werner gallery, in Berlin, and published “Justin Bond/Jackie Curtis.” In 2015, he collaborated with the artist Celia Paul to create “Desdemona for Celia by Hilton,” an exhibition for the Metropolitan Opera’s Gallery Met. In 2016, his debut art show “One Man Show: Holly, Candy, Bobbie and the Rest” opened at the Artist’s Institute. He has curated many shows including “Alice Neel, Uptown”, “God Made My Face: A Collective Portrait of James Baldwin”, “Toni Morrison’s Black Book” and “By Land, Air, Home, and Sea: The World of Frank Walter” at the David Zwirner Gallery in New York City, and three successive solo exhibitions at the Yale Centre for British Art, the first exhibit featuring Celia Paul, the second Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, and the third Njideka Akunyili Crosby. He curated “Joan Didion: What She Means” for the Hammer Museum in October 2022. In 2019 Als partnered with WNYC’s Greene Space on a limited podcast series titled The Way We Live Now: Hilton Als and America’s Poets.
Als is a teaching professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and an associate professor of writing at Columbia University’s School of the Arts. Als has taught at Yale University, Columbia University, Wesleyan University, and Smith College. He lives in New York City.
Photo Rivkah Gevinson