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University of Iowa News Release


Jan. 26, 2010

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner to speak at UI Feb. 2

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner will give the 2009-10 Distinguished Lecture Tuesday, Feb. 2, at the University of Iowa.

The talk, sponsored by the University Lecture Committee and supported by the F. Wendell Miller Fund, begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Main Lounge of the Iowa Memorial Union. Kelly Johnson, a former member of the Lecture Committee, will interview Kushner on stage. A book sale and signing by Kushner will follow his interview in the Main Lounge, hosted by the University Book Store.

Born in New York City in 1956, and raised in Lake Charles, La., Kushner is known for creating dramas that focus on AIDS, politics and America's gay subculture. He is best known for his two-part epic, “Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes,” which received both the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and two Tony Awards.

In 1998, London's National Theater selected "Angels in America" as one of the 10 best plays of the 20th century. And in 2003 an HBO film starring Al Pacino, Emma Thompson and Meryl Streep became one of the most talked-about television events of the season.

University Theatres Mainstage presented "Millennium Approaches," the first of the two "Angels in America" plays at the UI in March 2004. (See

When Kushner was a guest artist in the UI Department of Theatre Arts in the early 1990s, he offered a free reading from the script he had in development -- an opus prompted by President Reagan's disregard for the plague that was devastating America's gay community in the '80s and the resulting disconnect between "official" reality and the immediate horror experienced by an American subculture -- enabling an Iowa audience to be among the first to experience part of what would become the theatrical event of the '90s.

His other plays include “A Bright Room Called Day,” “Slavs!,” “Hydrotaphia,” “Homebody/Kabul,” and a musical “Caroline, or Change.” His latest work includes a collection of one-act plays, entitled “Tiny Kushner” -- featuring characters such as Laura Bush, Nixon’s analyst, the queen of Albania and a number of tax evaders -- and “The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism & Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures,” which premiered at the Guthrie Theatre in May 2009 and is scheduled for a New York production.

In his plays, Kushner gives voice to characters who have been rendered powerless by the forces of circumstances – a drag queen dying of AIDS, an uneducated Southern maid, contemporary Afghans – and his attempt to see all sides of their predicament has a sly subversiveness. In “After Angels,” a profile of Tony Kushner published in The New Yorker, John Lahr wrote: “[Kushner] is fond of quoting Melville’s heroic prayer from ‘Mardi and Voyage Thither’ (“Better to sink in boundless deeps than float on vulgar shoals”) and takes an almost carnal glee in tackling the most difficult subjects in contemporary history.”

“Tony Kushner is a dramatist through and through. Even when he is delivering a lecture or writing an essay, other voices break in, all smart, some smart-aleck, in a slaphappy polyphony, as he badgers himself (and others) into shrewd judgments... The results are funny, harsh and wise,” said author and journalist Gary Wills.

Kushner is the subject of a documentary film, “Wrestling with Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner,” made by the Oscar-winning filmmaker Freida Lee Mock. He wrote the screenplays for Mike Nichols’ film of “Angels In America,” and Steven Spielberg’s “Munich.” His books include “But the Giraffe: A Curtain Raising” and “Brundibar: the Libretto,” with illustrations by Maurice Sendak; “The Art of Maurice Sendak: 1980 to the Present”; and “Wrestling with Zion: Progressive Jewish-American Responses to the Palestinian/Israeli Conflict,” co-edited with Alisa Solomon.

Kushner has earned an Emmy Award, three Obie Awards, an Oscar nomination, an Arts Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the PEN/Laura Pels Award for a Mid-Career Playwright, a Spirit of Justice Award from the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders and a Cultural Achievement Award from The National Foundation for Jewish Culture. He lives in Manhattan with his partner, Mark Harris.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: University Lecture Committee, 319-335-3407,; George McCrory, University News Services, 319-384-0012,