Biography of Nilo Cruz

Nilo Cruz is a Cuban-American playwright, born October 10, 1960 in Matanzas, Cuba.

When Cruz was just a baby, his father, a political dissident and shoe salesman, was imprisoned for two years as a result of his resistance to Cuba's increased militarization (itself a response to Cuba's new ties with the Soviet Union). As a result, the young Cruz was primarily raised by his mother, two older sisters, and aunt. In 1970, when Cruz was just 10 years old, his family was finally able to emigrate from the island and moved to Miami, leaving his two sisters behind. Subsequently, Cruz's only return to the island, undertaken when he was 20, was in order to visit his two sisters.

Though Matanzas is famed as a center of poetry and music within, and though a young Cruz was drawn to the arts from a very early age, he has recounted that, despite such practices being associated with his hometown, his father's machismo intimidated a young Nilo out of showing interest in artistic life: "I was terrified of my father [...] That being drawn to the arts would be interpreted as being gay. I was terrified to ask my mother to pay for piano lessons." Nonetheless, Cruz easily picked up English after moving to America and began writing poetry in his teenage years. In the early 1980s, Cruz developed an interest in theater as an actor, and he attended community college in Miami, where he was mentored as a writer by Teresa María Rojas. Despite his early inclinations towards writing and acting, however, it was as a director that Cruz's life would change: after directing a scene from Maria Irene Fornés' play Mud, Fornés herself invited Cruz to join INTAR, a Hispanic theater incubation group she ran. Cruz then moved to New York City and was mentored by Fornés, eventually joining the prestigious New Dramatists group. During his time in New York, Cruz lived in an unused sound booth at his drama company while working to stay afloat as a bookstore clerk.

After his time in New York, Paula Vogel offered Cruz a scholarship to study playwriting at Brown, which he did until graduating with an MFA in 1994. Cruz's first play, Night Train to Boliña, then premiered in 1994, when Cruz was 34 years old. Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, Cruz wrote and produced several works that garnered him critical acclaim: 1995's A Park in Our House, for example, calls back to Cruz's youth in Cuba during Fidel Castro's "Ten Million Tons of Sugar Harvest" initiative; 1999's A Bicycle Country tells the story of three baseleros (refugees) making the journey from Cuba to Florida by raft; 1999's Two Sisters and a Piano tells the story of political dissidents under house arrest in Cuba that nonetheless find space for seduction and fantasy; and in 2002, Cruz adapted Gabriel García Marquéz's story "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" as a musical in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In each case, critics remarked on Cruz's simple and lyric language, his ability to call back to the layered cultures of his homeland and Latin America, and his tendency to focus on the liberating fantasies, escapes, and affairs that break up the mental and physical prisons of the mundane.

The early 2000s also saw Cruz's big break into the theatrical canon. In 2001, as a playwright–in–residence for the New Theatre in Coral Gables, Florida, Cruz produced Anna in the Tropics, his best-known play. Set in Ybor City, a small district of Tampa in the late 1920s, the play stages a conflict between modernity and tradition, between men and women, and between assimilation and dissimilation from one's host culture as an immigrant. It premiered on Broadway in 2003, and the same year, Cruz won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the first Latino to do so (his mentor Maria Irene Fornés had earlier been nominated).

In the time since writing Anna in the Tropics, Cruz has produced a variety of other plays, including (but not limited to) Lorca in a Green Dress (2003), The Color of Desire (2010), Hurricane (2010), and most recently, Bathing in Moonlight (2016). He continues to write about a variety of subjects close to him—his Cuban heritage, LGBTQ+ identity (Cruz is himself openly gay), and the experience of being an outsider or exile in a given place. While many of these subjects are focused on identity, however, Cruz refuses to be defined exclusively by these identity markers—Cruz acknowledges that he does not speak for any given community and, rather than get involved in political questions surrounding each of these identities and subcultures, Cruz attempts to make human drama, fantasy, and lyric emotion the center of each of his plays. At the same time, however, Cruz has often commented on the lack of Latino representation in mainstream theater, saying that—even when Latino representation can be found—it is often deployed in a tokenizing or noncontroversial way, instead of in a way that challenges theatergoers to think of things differently.

Aside from his Pulitzer Prize for Anna in the Tropics, Cruz has also received the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award for a mid-career playwright (2009), as well as an honorary doctorate from Whittier College.

Study Guides on Works by Nilo Cruz

Anna in the Tropics is a play by Cuban-American playwright Nilo Cruz, originally commissioned in 2001 and performed for the first time in Miami in 2002. Later, it premiered on Broadway in 2003.

When writing the play, Cruz has stated that his...