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 attacks. The timeliness of the play was not entirely coincidental, however, as it was the region’s political instability that drew Kushner’s attention to Afghanistan in the first place.
Kushner returned to New York City to attend Columbia University, majoring in medieval studies. He studied the fourteenth century mystical work The Cloud of Unknowing and has cited it as an analogue to the mystical elements in some of his plays. During his undergraduate years he met Barnard student Kimberley T. Flynn, whom he credits with guiding his political education, increasing his consciousness of feminism, and inspiring his work in many respects. After Columbia, Kushner studied directing at New York University. There, working under German-born professor Carl Weber, he discovered the works of German playwright and theorist Bertolt Brecht, whose writing was informed by a belief in the close links between writing for the theater and social activism. Other influences on Kushner include Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, and Karl Marx, the political philosopher and historian of social class struggle. Both in his plays and in other published remarks, Kushner frequently advocates the ideals of socialism and warns against the risks of fascism in modern society, particularly in the United States under Ronald Reagan and subsequent presidents. A...
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