David Henry Hwang was born in Los Angeles on August 11, 1957, the son of Henry Yuan Hwang, a banker, and Dorothy Huang Hwang, a professor of piano. His father grew up in Shanghai, China, and emigrated in the late 1940’s to California, where he enrolled in the business program at the University of Southern California. His mother, born in southeastern China, had grown up in the Philippines.
Hwang received his A.B. degree in English from Stanford University in 1979, then briefly taught writing in a high school in Menlo Park, California, before attending the Yale School of Drama in 1980 and 1981. His first play, F.O.B., was performed at Stanford University before being accepted for production at the National Playwrights Conference at Connecticut’s O’Neill Theater Center in 1979, when he was twenty-one years old. The following year, Joseph Papp brought it to the New York Shakespeare Festival’s Public Theatre, Off-Broadway. It won an Obie Award for the best new play of the season.
Like F.O.B., Hwang’s next two plays focused on the Chinese American experience. The Dance and the Railroad depicts two nineteenth century immigrants working on the transcontinental railroad, while Family Devotions is a bizarre farce set in contemporary California.
His next two plays, jointly titled Sound and Beauty, are stylized one-act plays set in contemporary Japan; they were produced Off-Broadway in 1983. The first, The House of Sleeping Beauties, reinvents a novella by Yasunari Kawabata, making the author a character in a version of his own work. The second, The Sound of a Voice, involves a conflict between a samurai warrior and a bewitching female hermit whom he intends to kill.
In 1983, Hwang received a Rockefeller playwright-in-residence award and a National Endowment for the Arts artistic associate fellowship. A Guggenheim Fellowship followed in 1984, as did fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts in 1985. On September 25, 1985, he married Ophelia Y. M. Chong, an artist, from whom he was later divorced.
Rich Relations, produced Off-Broadway in 1986, was his first work not about the Asian experience and his first critical failure, though it recapitulated various themes from his earlier plays. Nevertheless, Hwang has termed this failure exhilarating, freeing him...
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