Ayad Akhtar
Akhtar at the 2012 Texas Book Festival
Born (1970-10-28) October 28, 1970 (age 53)
EducationBrown University (BA)
Columbia University (MFA)
Occupation(s)Playwright, novelist, screenwriter
Years active2002–present
Notable workAmerican Dervish (2012)
Disgraced (2012)
Junk: The Golden Age of Debt (2016)
Homeland Elegies (2020)
AwardsPulitzer 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[1] and the Edith Wharton Citation for Merit in Fiction.[2] 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."[3]

Background and career

Akhtar was born in Staten Island, New York City, and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His interest in literature was initially sparked in high school.[4] Akhtar attended Brown University, where he majored in theater and religion and began acting and directing student plays.[5]

After graduation he moved to Italy to work with Jerzy Grotowski, eventually becoming his assistant.[6] 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.[7]

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."[8][9] 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.[10]

Akhtar's first produced play, Disgraced, premiered in 2012 at the American Theater Company in Chicago; it was next staged at Lincoln Center Theater in New York.[11][12] The play won the Obie Award and the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and premiered at the Bush Theatre in London that spring.[13][14] The play opened on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre on October 23, 2014, and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play.[15][16]

Akhtar's second play, 'The Who & The What, premiered at La Jolla Playhouse in February 2014,[17] followed by a run at Lincoln Center Theater in June. The Who & The What has since been produced around the world with notable productions in Berlin, Hamburg, and the Burgtheater in Vienna, Austria.[18] The latter production has run for almost two years. Its lead, Austrian film star Peter Simonischek, won the Nestroy Award for Best Actor.[19]

Akhtar's third play The Invisible Hand premiered at the New York Theatre Workshop in December 2014,[20] a production which invited comparison to the work of Shaw, Brecht, and Arthur Miller.[21] It won the Obie Award, the John Gassner Award, and was 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.[22]

In 2016, American Theatre magazine declared Akhtar the most produced playwright in the country.[23][24]

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.[25] It was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play and was awarded the Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama.[26] 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."[27]

In 2017, Akhtar won the Steinberg Playwright Award.[28] In his acceptance speech at Lincoln Center Theater, later published in The New York Times, he explained why he believes the theater is more important now than it ever has been:

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. [...] The act of gathering to witness the myths of our alleged origins enacted — this is the root of the theater's timeless magic.[29]

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; he blends fact and fiction to tell a story of belonging and dispossession about the world that 9/11 made.[30] The New York Times named Homeland Elegies one of the 10 Best Books of 2020, calling the book "pitch perfect... virtuosic."[31] The Washington Post, Time, Entertainment Weekly, and Publishers Weekly also named it one of the 10 best books of 2020, with the Post reviewer stating that he would not be "surprised if it wins [Akhtar] a second Pulitzer Prize."[32][33][34][35] Slate, O, NPR, The Economist, and Kirkus Reviews named Homeland Elegies one of the best books of 2020.[36][37][38][39][40] Barack Obama named it one of his favorite books of 2020.[41] Homeland Elegies was shortlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction,[42] and won the 2021 American Book Award.[43] 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.[44]

On December 2, 2020, Akhtar was elected as president of PEN America.[45] In 2021, Akhtar was named New York State Author by the New York State Writers Institute.[46]

In 2023, it was announced that he would co-pen with Matthew Decker the libretto for the stage musical adaptation of Damien Chazelle's 2016 film La La Land, which will be directed by Bartlett Sher, with Justin Hurwitz and Pasek & Paul returning as songwriters.[47]

List of works



Film and television

Year Film Role Notes
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
"Long After" Naseer Short
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"


Homeland Elegies


The Invisible Hand


American Dervish

The War Within


Ashraf Ibrahim Zidan translated Akhtar's Disgraced into Arabic under the title Al-Makhzi.[76]


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Further reading


  1. ^ Online version is titled "An American writer for an age of division".