Tony Kushner Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

ph_0111226260-Kushner.jpg Tony Kushner Published by Salem Press, Inc.

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 terrifying rise to power, underscoring the need to combat evil and the price of inaction. Kushner reaches further back in time for his parallel subject matter in another early play, Hydriotaphia: Or, The Death of Dr. Browne (pr. 1987). Kushner’s dark and thoughtful comedy chooses Sir Thomas Browne’s last day on Earth to raise questions about death, its effect on others, and Americans’ capitalistic obsession with materialism.

Millenium Approaches, part 1 of Kushner’s Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, was produced in 1991 in San Francisco and became a huge Broadway success in 1993, winning the Tony...

(The entire section is 832 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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.


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

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 conservative counterparts. Kushner sees the loss of the left to be a loss of hope and a foreboding of a dangerous, heartless future. These themes are also developed in Angels in America, but in Slavs! Kushner does not use sexuality as a major symbol, although two main characters of Slavs! are a lesbian couple.

Kushner writes what he has referred to as Theater of the Fabulous. His plots examine the close relationship between the public, political world and the private lives of people. An activist who has been arrested more than once at demonstrations against government inaction in the face of the AIDS crisis, Kushner sees himself as an inheritor of Bertolt Brecht’s explicitly political theater. In order for theater to be socially relevant, moving, and artistically successful, Kushner believes that theater must be confrontational, that it must not leave its audience comfortable or satisfied with the status quo. Theater, for Kushner, is an art of engagement, with politics, with issues, and with audiences—and theater is always political.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

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, where he studied directing. Kushner began working as a switchboard operator before his professional theater career took off with the production of A Bright Room Called Day in 1987 and the momentous hit, Angels in America in 1991. Kushner has served as an artist-in-residence and director at New York University, Yale, Princeton, the Julliard School of Drama, and at the St. Louis Repertory Theater.