Biography of Tony Kushner

Tony Kushner is one of the most lauded American playwrights, primarily known for his Pulitzer-Prize-winning magnum opus, Angels in America. His work is informed by his identity as a Jewish man, a homosexual, a leftist, and a deeply thoughtful intellectual.

Born in New York City in 1956 to William, a clarinetist, and Sylvia, a bassoonist, Kushner grew up loving music and literature. The family moved to Lake Charles, Louisiana; of his 1960s childhood, Kushner remembered, “Threats of nuclear annihilation aside, I had a happyish childhood. Our old house was filled with books and music, and was situated on a lot surrounded by semi-tropical forest. The woods were beautiful, mysterious and exciting…The woods were also melancholy, as most woods are - perpetually shady, with a decomposing floor of fallen leaves, tangles of dead branches and thorny vines, and here and there the bodies or skeletons of forest animals. Even a happyish kid finds reflections in his surroundings for the various woes, at home or at school, that put the ‘ish’ in ‘happyish’. For me, the woods were an external correlative of both my joy and my sorrow, a place to spend time in the company of infinite variety, and of something strange, a little scary, ineluctable and sad.”

Kushner attended Columbia University and attained his B.A. in English literature, with a focus of the medieval period, in 1978. Nurturing his interest in Bertolt Brecht, he matriculated at New York’s Tisch School of the Arts and earned his M.F.A. in directing in 1984. While he had known he was gay since he was a child, he did not come out until college; he’d even tried psychotherapy to change his sexual orientation before embracing it. In 1985 Kushner founded a theater company called Heat & Light, which presented a workshop version of his first play, A Bright Room Called Day.

Kushner published the first part of Angels in America, Millennium Approaches, in 1991. It was massively successful on Broadway when it opened in 1993, netting Kushner the 1993 Pulitzer and the Tony Award. The second part, Perestroika, was staged in 1992 and earned another Tony.

Kushner’s other works include the plays A Bright Room Called Day, Slavs, Hydrotaphia, Homebody/Kabul; a musical called Caroline, or Change; an opera called A Blizzard on Marblehead Neck; translations of other playwrights’ work; the screenplays for the HBO adaptation of Angels in America, Lincoln, and Munich; and several books. He has been awarded the aforementioned Pulitzer, the New York Film Critics Circle Award, the Boston Society of Film Critics Award, 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, and the 2015 Lifetime Achievement in the American Theater Award, and the Steinberg Distinguished Playwright Award. He has also received several honorary degrees.

Kushner has been married to journalist and author Mark Harris since 2008, though they had a commitment ceremony in April 2003 before gay marriage was legal.

Study Guides on Works by Tony Kushner

Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes is widely considered one of the most ambitious and profoundly moving plays of the late 20th century, earning the 1993 Pulitzer Prize and a place in Harold Bloom’s Western canon (interestingly,...