Richard Greenberg was born in East Meadow, New York, on February 22, 1958 or 1959—official sources conflict. He was raised there in a middle-class household. His father, Leon, was an executive for the Century Theaters movie chain, and his mother, Shirley, was a housewife. After graduating from East Meadow High School in 1976, Greenberg attended Princeton University, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English in 1980; one of his instructors was the famed novelist Joyce Carol Oates. He went to graduate school at Harvard University from 1981 to 1982, studying fiction writing and finding that he did not like it as much as he did acting: at that point, he decided to try play writing. The play he wrote earned him acceptance to the Yale School of Drama, where he completed an M.F.A. in 1985.
Greenberg’s first produced play, The Bloodletters, drew attention from critics when it was first produced in New York in 1985, and after that, Greenberg remained active in the theater world. By 2006, he had produced twenty-eight plays, almost always supported by critical raves. For a brief while in 2003, three of his plays were running on Broadway at once: Take Me Out, The Violet Hour, and a revival of 1988’s Eastern Standard. At one point in the early 2000s, he had five plays in production at one time.
Though he lived in New York City much of his adult life, Greenberg worked with directors across the country. He was a member of Ensemble Studio Theatre and an associate artist at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, California. He won numerous awards, including the 2003 Tony Award for Best Play for Take Me Out and the George Oppenheimer Award and the Los Angeles Drama Critics’ Circle Award, both for Three Days of Rain. He has also been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and a nominee for the Drama Desk Award, both for Take Me Out. In 1996, Greenberg and playwright Arthur Miller were the first recipients of the PEN/Laura Pels Award for Drama.