|Education||Brown University (BA)|
Columbia University (MFA)
|Occupation||Playwright, novelist, screenwriter|
|American Dervish (2012)|
Junk: The Golden Age of Debt (2016)
Homeland Elegies (2020)
|Awards||Pulitzer Prize for Drama|
Award in Literature, American Academy of Arts and Letters
Steinberg Playwright Award
Ayad Akhtar (born October 28, 1970) is an American playwright, novelist, and screenwriter of Pakistani heritage, awarded the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. His work has received two Tony Award nominations for Best Play, an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Edith Wharton Citation for Merit in Fiction. Akhtar's writing covers various themes including the American-Muslim experience, religion and economics, immigration, and identity. In 2015, The Economist wrote that Akhtar's tales of assimilation "are as essential today as the work of Saul Bellow, James Farrell, and Vladimir Nabokov were in the 20th century in capturing the drama of the immigrant experience."
Akhtar was born in Staten Island, New York City, and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His interest in literature was initially sparked in high school. Akhtar attended Brown University, where he majored in theater and religion and began acting and directing student plays. After graduation he moved to Italy to work with Jerzy Grotowski, eventually becoming his assistant. Upon returning to the United States, Akhtar taught acting alongside Andre Gregory and earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in film directing from Columbia University School of the Arts.
In 2012, Akhtar published his first novel American Dervish, a coming-of-age story about a Pakistani-American boy growing up in Milwaukee. The book was met with critical acclaim, described by The New York Times as "self-assured and effortlessly told." American Dervish has been published in over 20 languages and was a Kirkus Reviews best book of the year. Akhtar's narration of the audio book was nominated for an Audie Award in 2013.
Akhtar's first produced play, Disgraced premiered at the American Theater Company in Chicago before being staged at Lincoln Center Theater in New York. The play went on to win the Obie Award and the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and premiered at the Bush Theatre in London that spring. The play opened on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre on October 23, 2014, and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play.
Akhtar's second play The Who & The What premiered at La Jolla Playhouse in February 2014, followed by a run at Lincoln Center Theater in June. The Who & The What has gone on to be produced around the world with notable productions in Berlin, Hamburg, and the Burgtheater in Vienna, Austria. The latter production has run for almost two years and won Austrian film star Peter Simonischek the Nestroy Award for Best Actor.
His third play The Invisible Hand premiered at the New York Theatre Workshop in December, 2014, a production which invited comparison to the work of Shaw, Brecht, and Arthur Miller. It would go on to win the Obie Award, the John Gassner Award, be nominated for multiple Lucille Lortel Awards and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. In May 2016, the play premiered in London at The Tricycle Theatre and received nominations for the Evening Standard and Laurence Olivier awards.
In 2016, American Theatre magazine declared Akhtar the most produced playwright in the country.
Akhtar's latest play Junk: The Golden Age of Debt premiered on Broadway at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, produced by Lincoln Center Theater, on November 2, 2017. It was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play and was awarded the Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama. In his final interview Bill Moyers referred to Junk as "not only history but prophecy. A Biblical-like account of who's running America, and how." Moyers added: "Our times at last have found their voice, and it belongs to a Pakistani American: Ayad Akhtar."
In 2017, Akhtar won the Steinberg Playwright Award. In his acceptance speech at Lincoln Center Theater, later published in The New York Times, he explained why he believes the theater is only more important now than it ever has been:
A living being before a living audience. Relationship unmediated by the contemporary disembodying screen. Not the appearance of a person, but the reality of one. Not a simulacrum of relationship, but a form of actual relationship.
The theater is an art form scaled to the human, and stubbornly so, relying on the absolute necessity of physical audience, a large part of why theater is so difficult to monetize. It only happens when and where it happens. Once it starts, you can't stop it. It doesn't exist to be paused or pulled out at the consumer's whim. It can't be copied and sold. In a world increasingly lost to virtuality and unreality — the theater points to an antidote.
A living actor before a living audience. The situation of all theater, a situation that can awaken in us a recollection of something more primordial, religious ritual — the site of our earliest collective negotiations with our tremendous vulnerability to existence. The act of gathering to witness the myths of our alleged origins enacted — this is the root of the theater's timeless magic.
Akhtar's second novel, Homeland Elegies, was published in September, 2020 by Little, Brown and Company. According to the publisher's press release, the book is drawn from Akhtar's life as the son of Muslim immigrants, blending fact and fiction to tell a story of belonging and dispossession about the world that 9/11 made. The New York Times named Homeland Elegies one of the 10 Best Books of 2020, calling the book "pitch perfect... virtuosic." The Washington Post, Time, Entertainment Weekly, and Publishers Weekly also named it one of the 10 best books of 2020, with the Post stating that it would not be "surprised if it wins [Akhtar] a second Pulitzer Prize." Slate, O, NPR, The Economist, and Kirkus Reviews named Homeland Elegies one of the best books of 2020. Barack Obama named it one of his favorite books of 2020. Homeland Elegies was shortlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction, and won the 2021 American Book Award. An eight-episode limited series of Homeland Elegies is in development at FX, starring Kumail Nanjiani and adapted by Akhtar and Oren Moverman, who will direct all the episodes.
On December 2, 2020, Akhtar became president of PEN America. In 2021, Akhtar was named New York State Author by the New York State Writers Institute.
|2002||"Life Document 2: Identity"||Ahmad||Directed, wrote script and served as editor|
|2005||The War Within||Hassan||Co-wrote script|
|2006||2006 Independent Spirit Awards||Himself||Documentary|
|2008||"FCU: Fact Checkers Unit"||Short|
|2011||Too Big to Fail||Neel Kashkari||TV film|
|2022||Would I Lie to You? (US)||Himself||Episode: "Babysitting Lemurs"|
|last1=has generic name (help)