Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Tony Kushner, born in New York City and raised in Lake Charles, Louisiana, was the middle child of William, a Juilliard-trained clarinetist, and Sylvia (Deutscher) Kushner, a bassoonist, one of the first American women to hold a chair with a symphony orchestra. Both nurtured young Tony’s interest in the arts.
In 1974, Kushner began attending Columbia University, graduating in 1978 with a B.A. in English literature. During these years, Kushner continued to struggle with his sexual identity and eventually shared his self-acceptance as a homosexual with his family. Fellow student Kimberly Flynn, a close friend, became a mentor for several of Kushner’s plays, especially his two-part masterpiece Angels in America (pr. 1991-1992).
Kushner greatly enjoyed the New York professional theater scene, read plays voraciously, and developed an interest in the works and theories of dramatist Bertolt Brecht. He enrolled at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, earning an M.F.A. in directing in 1984.
Kushner began writing plays in the early 1980’s and soon began winning significant national awards. One noteworthy early play is A Bright Room Called Day (pr. 1985), where Kushner likens the extreme conservatism of the Ronald Reagan era to Nazi Germany. A group of friends is gradually destroyed during Adolf Hitler’s...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Though Tony Kushner’s life-affirming work often deals with how humans survive grief and loss on a personal and social level, he still believes that, despite slowness and pain, individuals and societies can and must change and progress. He believes wholeheartedly in the power of human imagination and the theater to transcend social, national, economic, religious, political, and sexual barriers in order to achieve justice. Kushner is an incisive, brilliantly profound artist whose canvas—as deep as it is wide—is the whole of human experience and whose palette is as colorful as the human family.
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Tony Kushner grew up in Lake Charles, Louisiana. His parents, musicians, immersed him in culture, leftist politics, and the arts. He returned to New York City, his birthplace, to attend Columbia University, where he studied medieval history, developed an interest in Marxist thought, and began to come to terms with his homosexuality. He underwent psychoanalysis during his early years in New York, attempting to “cure” himself of being gay. After being graduated from Columbia in 1978, Kushner earned a Master in Fine Arts degree in directing from New York University in 1984.
Kushner is best known for Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, a play about life in Ronald Reagan’s America and the pandemic of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Much of Angels in America—and of Kushner’s other work—focuses on political thought, especially the connections between world history and contemporary politics. Kushner’s first major play, A Bright Room Called Day, uses an artistic character to draw explicit links between the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930’s and what Kushner saw as the smothering conservatism of the 1980’s. Slavs!, Kushner’s sequel to Angels in America, opens with a character from Perestroika, Aleksii Antedilluvianovich Perlapsarianov, the world’s oldest Bolshevik. The play focuses on a postsocialist world in which leftist politics has lost out to its more...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Tony Kushner was born in New York City in 1956, but the family soon moved to Lake Charles, Louisiana, so his parents, classical musicians, could pursue professional opportunities there. From an early age, Kushner’s parents encouraged him to participate in music, literature, and the performing arts. Kushner’s mother was also an actress, and he vividly recalls seeing his mother perform when he was only four or five years old, which made a powerful impression on him and probably inspired him to pursue a life in theater. His artistic and literary interests, his Jewish background, and his homosexuality set him apart from other children. In an interview with Richard Stayton of the Los Angeles Times, Kushner said that he has distinct memories of being gay since he was six. Kushner knew that he felt slightly different from most other boys. By the time he was eleven, Kushner had no doubts about his homosexuality.
However, Kushner kept his sexuality a secret throughout his college education at Columbia University in New York, even undergoing psychotherapy designed to make him heterosexual. Kushner eventually came out, or revealed his sexual orientation, to his family and friends. Coming out as a homosexual became a prominent theme in his writing, and many of his plays depict characters struggling with their sexuality. Kushner received his B.A. from Columbia in 1978, where he studied medieval literature, and he pursued an M.F.A. at New York University,...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Tony Kushner (KOOSH-nur) is a prominent American playwright who achieved fame in the early 1990’s with the production of his two-part drama Angels in America, startling audiences with its frank representation of contemporary homosexuality, including acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) as well as the play’s unconventional structure and use of fantasy elements. Kushner was born in New York City in 1956 but grew up in Lake Charles, Louisiana, where his family had a lumber business. Both of his parents were musicians, and his first experiences of theater occurred when his mother performed in amateur dramatics. Although Kushner does not use the South as a setting for his plays, he credits southern playwright Tennessee Williams as an influence and has said he would not mind being considered a southern writer himself. Angels in America was the first of his works to address homosexuality, and he argues that the freedom this topic gave him helped unblock his creativity and improved his writing. Of the acclaim given that play, Kushner modestly asserts that he was lucky in writing a play that spoke to issues people were eager to hear about at the time. A second wave of acclaim and interest in Kushner’s work came with the production of Homebody/Kabul in 2001, shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Kushner had been researching and writing about Afghanistan for four years prior to the...
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Tony Kushner was born in Manhattan, New York, in 1956. While he was still an infant, his musician parents moved the family to Louisiana, where they played with the New Orleans Philharmonic. He developed an appreciation for opera and literature from his father and learned a passion for theatre from his mother, who acted in local plays. Kushner's views on religion, politics, and sex, hallmarks of his later work as a playwright, began to take shape during his early childhood. He attended Hebrew school, where he developed an attraction toward his teacher but would struggle to hide his homosexual feelings for several years. He felt further isolated as a Jew in the American South, where he regularly encountered anti-Semitism. When he left Lake Charles to attend Columbia University in New York he was, by his own estimation, liberal, ardently Zionist, and extremely closeted.
While at Columbia, he discovered new intellectual influences that changed his perspectives and would later shape his writing. He delved into the Middle Ages, found his own fantastical, spiritual side, and thought for a time he would become a medieval studies professor. It wasn't until after he received his B.A. that Kushner ‘‘came out’’ and began to live as an openly gay student and artist. He went on to study directing at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. Kushner read Bertolt Brecht and Karl Marx and realized the awesome potential of a politically charged theatre. He...
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