Born in New York City in 1956, and raised in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Kushner is best known for his two-part epic, Angels In America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes. His other plays include A Bright Room Called Day, Slavs!, Hydrotaphia, Homebody/Kabul; as well as a musical Caroline, or Change, and opera A Blizzard on Marblehead Neck, both with composer Jeanine Tesori. Kushner has translated and adapted Pierre Corneille's The Illusion, S.Y. Ansky's The Dybbuk, Bertolt Brecht's The Good Person of Sezuan and Mother Courage and Her Children, and the English-language libretto for the children’s opera Brundibár by Hans Krasa. He wrote the screenplays for Mike Nichols’ film of Angels In America, and Steven Spielberg’s Munich. His screenplay for Spielberg's movie Lincoln was nominated for an Academy Award, and won the New York Film Critics Circle Award, Boston Society of Film Critics Award, Chicago Film Critics Award, and several others. He wrote the screenplay for Spielberg’s award-winning 2021 movie remake of West Side Story. He co-wrote, along with Stephen Speilberg, the script for The Fabelmans, a semi-autobiographical film based on Spielberg's childhood. It was later nominated for the 2023 Academy Award for Writing (Original Screenplay). His books include But the Giraffe: A Curtain Raising and Brundibar, with illustrations by Maurice Sendak; The Art of Maurice Sendak: 1980 to the Present; and Wrestling with Zion: Progressive Jewish-American Responses to the Palestinian/Israeli Conflict, co-edited with Alisa Solomon. He is also the author of a collection of one-act plays titled Tiny Kushner, The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures, and an adaptation of Friedrich Dürrenmatt's The Visit, or The Old Lady Comes to Call. In addition, a revival of Angels in America ran off-Broadway at the Signature Theater and won the Lucille Lortel Award in 2011 for Outstanding Revival. A revision of his earlier play, now titled A Bright Room Called Day Revisited, is due out from TCG on July 11, 2023.
Kushner is the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, an Emmy Award, two Tony Awards, three Obie Awards, two Evening Standard Awards, an Olivier Award, two Oscar nominations, an Arts Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a PEN/Laura Pels Award, a Spirit of Justice Award from the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, a Cultural Achievement Award from The National Foundation for Jewish Culture, a Chicago Tribune Literary Prize for lifetime achievement, the 2012 National Medal of Arts, the 2015 Lifetime Achievement in the American Theater Award, the Steinberg Distinguished Playwright Award, the 2019 Dramatists Guild Foundation’s Madge Evans & Sidney Kingsley Awards, the 2020 Distinguished Achievement Award, and the Chicago Public Library Foundation’s 2022 Carl Sandburg Literary Award among many others. He is the subject of a documentary film, Wrestling with Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner, made by the Oscar-winning filmmaker Freida Lee Mock.
In “After Angels,” a profile of Tony Kushner published in The New Yorker, John Lahr wrote: “[Kushner] is fond of quoting Melville’s heroic prayer from Mardi and a Voyage Thither (“Better to sink in boundless deeps than float on vulgar shoals”), and takes an almost carnal glee in tackling the most difficult subjects in contemporary history – among them, AIDS and the conservative counter-revolution (Angels In America), Afghanistan and the West (Homebody/Kabul), German Fascism and Reaganism (A Bright Room Called Day), the rise of capitalism (Hydriotaphia, or the Death of Dr. Browne), and racism and the civil rights movement in the South (Caroline, or Change). But his plays, which are invariably political, are rarely polemical. Instead Kushner rejects ideology in favor of what he calls “a dialectically shaped truth,” which must be “outrageously funny” and “absolutely agonizing,” and must “move us forward.” He gives voice to characters who have been rendered powerless by the forces of circumstances – a drag queen dying of AIDS, an uneducated Southern maid, contemporary Afghans – and his attempt to see all sides of their predicament has a sly subversiveness. He forces the audience to identify with the marginalized – a humanizing act of the imagination.” He lives in Manhattan with his husband, Mark Harris.
Harvard Gazette: Tony Kushner on Jewishness, Spielberg, ‘unsafe’ art (2023)
Guardian: ‘There are truths that have to be told and they may upset people’ (2022)
The Film Stage: Tony Kushner on The Fabelmans (2022)
Letterboxd: Fable Man: Tony Kushner on writing Steven Spielberg’s life (2022)
Chicago Sun-Times: Tony Kushner set to receive Sandburg Literary Award: Chicago ‘supports my work’ (2022)
Time: How Tony Kushner and His Collaborators Brought West Side Story Into the 21st Century (2021)
New York Times: Tony Kushner, Oracle of the Upper West Side (2021)
Rolling Stone: Tony Kushner on ‘Angels in America,’ Stonewall, and Battling Trump’s Stupidity (2019)
New York Times: Review: An ‘Angels in America’ That Soars on the Breath of Life (2018)
New York Times: Tony Kushner, at Peace? Not Exactly. But Close. (2018)
Slate: Angels in America: The Complete Oral History (2016)
Duke Today: Tony Kushner on a Life as an Artist and an Activist (2015)
Photo Bryan Derballa