Tony Kushner
Kushner in 2016
Kushner in 2016
Born (1956-07-16) July 16, 1956 (age 67)
New York City, U.S.
  • Playwright
  • author
  • screenwriter
EducationColumbia University (BA)
New York University (MFA)
Notable awardsFull list
(m. 2008)

Anthony Robert Kushner (born July 16, 1956) is an American author, playwright, and screenwriter. Lauded for his work on stage, he is most known for his seminal work Angels in America, which earned a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award, as well as its subsequent acclaimed HBO miniseries of the same name. At the turn of the 21st century, he became known for his numerous film collaborations with Steven Spielberg. He received the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama in 2013.[1] Kushner is among the few playwrights in history nominated for an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Award.

Kushner made his Broadway debut in 1993 with both Angels in America: Millennium Approaches and Angels in America: Perestroika. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play. He then adapted the acclaimed 2003 miniseries directed by Mike Nichols for which Kushner received a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series or Movie.

In 2003, he wrote the lyrics and book to the musical Caroline, or Change which earned Kushner Tony Award nominations for Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score. The 2021 Broadway revival of Caroline, or Change earned Kushner a nomination for the 2023 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album.

He has collaborated with director Steven Spielberg on the films Munich (2005), Lincoln (2012), West Side Story (2021), and The Fabelmans (2022). His work with Spielberg has earned him four Academy Award nominations, one for Best Picture, two for Best Adapted Screenplay, and one for Best Original Screenplay.

Early life and education

Kushner protesting at Columbia University in 1978

Kushner was born in Manhattan, the son of Sylvia (née Deutscher), a bassoonist, and William David Kushner, a clarinetist and conductor.[2][3] His family is Jewish, descended from immigrants from Russia and Poland.[4][5][6][7][8] Shortly after his birth, Kushner's parents moved to Lake Charles, Louisiana, the seat of Calcasieu Parish where he spent his childhood. During high school Kushner was active in policy debate. In 1974, Kushner moved back to New York to begin his undergraduate college education at Columbia University, where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Medieval studies in 1978.[9] He attended the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU, graduating in 1984. During graduate school, he spent the summers of 1978–1981 directing both early original works (Masque of the Owls and Incidents and Occurrences During the Travels of the Tailor Max) and plays by Shakespeare (A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest) starring the children attending the Governor's Program for Gifted Children (GPGC) in Lake Charles.

Kushner has received several honorary degrees: in 2003 from Columbia College Chicago,[10] in 2006 an honorary doctorate from Brandeis University, in 2008 an honorary Doctor of Letters from SUNY Purchase College,[11] in May 2011 an honorary doctorate from CUNY's John Jay College of Criminal Justice and also an Honorary Doctorate from The New School,[12] and in May 2015, an honorary Doctor of Letters from Ithaca College.[13][14]


Kushner's best known work is Angels in America (a play in two parts: Millennium Approaches and Perestroika), a seven-hour epic about the AIDS epidemic in Reagan-era New York, which was later adapted into an HBO miniseries for which Kushner wrote the screenplay. His other plays include Hydriotaphia, Slavs!: Thinking About the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness, A Bright Room Called Day, Homebody/Kabul, and the book for the musical Caroline, or Change. His new translation of Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children was performed at the Delacorte Theater in the summer of 2006, starring Meryl Streep and directed by George C. Wolfe. Kushner has also adapted Brecht's The Good Person of Szechwan, Corneille's The Illusion, and S. Ansky's play The Dybbuk.

In the early 2000s, Kushner began writing for film. His co-written screenplay Munich was produced and directed by Steven Spielberg in 2005. In January 2006, a documentary feature about Kushner entitled Wrestling with Angels debuted at the Sundance Film Festival. The film was directed by Freida Lee Mock. In April 2011 it was announced that he was working with Spielberg again, writing the screenplay for an adaptation of historian Doris Kearns Goodwin's book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.[15] The screenplay for Lincoln would go on to receive multiple awards, in addition to nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay at the Golden Globes and The Oscars.[16]

In a 2015 interview actress/producer Viola Davis revealed she had hired Kushner to write an as yet untitled biopic about the life of Barbara Jordan that she planned to star in.[17]

In 2016, Kushner worked on a screenplay version of August Wilson's play Fences; the resulting film Fences, directed by Denzel Washington, was released in December 2016.

Kushner is famous for frequent revisions and years-long gestations of his plays. Both Angels in America: Perestroika and Homebody/Kabul were significantly revised even after they were first published. Kushner has admitted that the original script version of Angels in America: Perestroika is nearly double the length of the theatrical version.[18] His newest completed work, the play The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures, began as a novel more than a decade before it finally opened on May 15, 2009.

In 2018, it was announced that Kushner was working on a script of a remake of West Side Story for Spielberg to direct.[19] West Side Story was released in December 2021 to positive reviews and received seven Academy Award nominations including Best Picture.[20][21]

In 2022, Kushner collaborated again with Spielberg on The Fabelmans, a fictionalized account of Spielberg's childhood. The film premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival to widespread critical acclaim and won the festival's People's Choice Award.[22] The Fabelmans received seven Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.

In 2023, with his Grammy Award nomination for Best Musical Theater Album for Caroline, or Change, Kushner became one of the few writers in history nominated for all four major American entertainment awards: the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Awards.

Political views

Kushner speaking at the University of Maryland in 2011

Kushner's six-word memoir was "At least I never voted Republican."[23][24] His criticism of the Israeli government's treatment of Palestinians and the increased religious extremism in Israeli politics and culture has created some controversy with American Jews,[25] including some opposition to his receiving an honorary doctorate at the 2006 commencement of Brandeis University. During the controversy, quotes critical of Zionism and Israel made by Kushner were circulated. Kushner said at the time that his quotes were "grossly mischaracterized". Kushner told the Jewish Advocate in an interview, "All that anybody seems to be reading is a couple of right-wing Web sites taking things deliberately out of context and excluding anything that would complicate the picture by making me seem like a reasonable person, which I basically think I am."[26]

In an interview with the Jewish Independent, Kushner commented, "I want the state of Israel to continue to exist. I've always said that. I've never said anything else. My positions have been lied about and misrepresented in so many ways. People claim that I'm for a one-state solution, which is not true." He later stated that he hopes that "there might be a merging of the two countries because [they're] geographically kind of ridiculous looking on a map", although he acknowledged that political realities make this unlikely in the near future.[27] Kushner has received backlash from family members due to his political views of Israel.[28]

Kushner receiving a National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama, 2013

On May 2, 2011, the Board of Trustees of the City University of New York (CUNY),[29] at their monthly public meeting, voted to remove (by tabling to avoid debate) Kushner's name from the list of people invited to receive honorary degrees, based on a statement by trustee Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld about Kushner's purported statements and beliefs about Zionism and Israel.[30][31] In response, the CUNY Graduate Center Advocate began a live blog on the "Kushner Crisis" situation, including news coverage and statements of support from faculty and academics.[32] Three days later, CUNY issued a public statement that the Board is independent.[33]

On May 6, three previous honorees stated they intended to return their degrees: Barbara Ehrenreich, Michael Cunningham, and Ellen Schrecker.[11] Wiesenfeld said that if Kushner would renounce his anti-Israel statements in front of the Board, he would be willing to vote for him.[34] The same day, the Board moved to reverse its decision.[35] Kushner accepted the honorary doctorate at the June 3 graduation for the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.[36]

In March 2024, Kushner was one of several signatories of "A Statement From Jewish Americans Opposing AIPAC", a letter denouncing AIPAC's lobbying efforts in the United States government.[37]

Personal life

Kushner and his partner, Mark Harris, held a commitment ceremony in April 2003,[38] the first same-sex commitment ceremony to be featured in the Vows column of The New York Times.[39] In summer 2008, Kushner and Harris were legally married at the town hall in Provincetown, Massachusetts.[40]

Harris is an editor of Entertainment Weekly and author of Pictures at a Revolution – Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood, Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War, and Mike Nichols: A Life.

He is close friends with theatre director Michael Mayer, whom he met while studying at NYU.[41]

List of works


The stage performance rights to most of these plays are licensed by Broadway Play Publishing Inc.








Awards and honors

Main article: List of awards and nominations received by Tony Kushner

Kushner has received various accolades including two Tony Awards, a Primetime Emmy Award and nominations for four Academy Awards and a Grammy Award.
He's also received various honors including:

See also


  1. ^ "White House to honor Star Wars' Lucas, playwright Kushner among others".
  2. ^ Fisher, James (2001). The Theater of Tony Kushner: Living Past Hope. Psychology Press. ISBN 978-0-8153-3150-6.
  3. ^ "Sylvia Deutscher Kushner, Bassoonist, 65". The New York Times. August 29, 1990.
  4. ^ Miller, Gerri (October 23, 2014). "'Finding Your Roots' explores Jewish genealogy". Jewish Journal. Retrieved June 5, 2018.
  5. ^ Harris, Paul (May 5, 2011). "University snub for 'anti-Israel' playwright Tony Kushner". The Guardian. Retrieved June 5, 2018.
  6. ^ Berrin, Danielle (November 29, 2011). "Tony Kushner awarded $100,000 prize for challenging status quo". Jewish Journal. Retrieved June 5, 2018.
  7. ^ Kellaway, Kate (May 14, 2017). "Tony Kushner: 'To love someone puts you at the risk of loss'". The Guardian. Retrieved June 5, 2018.
  8. ^ Stated on Finding Your Roots, PBS, November 4, 2014
  9. ^ "Tony Kushner".
  10. ^ "Library".
  11. ^ a b Tony Kushner row deepens as supporters renounce honorary degrees, The Guardian, May 6, 2011
  12. ^ "POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE". The New Yorker. June 6, 2011.
  13. ^ Ithaca College Honorary Degree Recipient Tony Kushner's Commencement Speech. YouTube. May 18, 2015.[dead YouTube link]
  14. ^ "Commencement – Ithaca College" (PDF).
  15. ^ Yin, Maryann (May 14, 2011). "Steven Spielberg & Tony Kushner To Adapt Team of Rivals". Mediabistro. Archived from the original on April 17, 2011. Retrieved May 5, 2011.
  16. ^ Lincoln, retrieved January 19, 2018
  17. ^ SYME, RACHEL (August 25, 2015). "Viola Davis, on Finding Creative Space in TV With No Limitations". The New York Times. Retrieved August 27, 2015.
  18. ^ Lucas, Craig. "Tony Kushner" Archived May 20, 2011, at the Wayback Machine, "BOMB Magazine", Spring, 1993. Retrieved July 25, 2011.
  19. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (January 19, 2018). "Steven Spielberg Eyes Indiana Jones & 'West Side Story' Atop Next Directing Vehicles". Deadline. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  20. ^ "West Side Story - Rotten Tomatoes". December 10, 2021. Retrieved September 12, 2023.
  21. ^ Cohn, Gabe (February 8, 2022). "Oscars 2022 Nominee List: 'Power of the Dog' and 'Dune' Lead". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 12, 2023.
  22. ^ Rubin, Rebecca (September 18, 2022). "Steven Spielberg's 'The Fabelmans' Wins Toronto International Film Festival's People's Choice Award". Variety. Retrieved September 18, 2022.
  23. ^ Smith, Larry; Fershleiser, Rachel (2010). It All Changed in an Instant: More Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure. Harper Collins. p. 76. ISBN 978-0-06-196348-3.
  24. ^ "Can You Tell Your Life Story In Exactly Six Words?". NPR. February 3, 2010. Retrieved October 12, 2022.
  25. ^ David Zax and Ted Merwin, (2007), The Playwright's Politics Moment Magazine
  26. ^ Shayndi Raice. "Brandeis graduation honoree draws fire." The Jewish Advocate. May 4, 2006.
  27. ^ Cynthia Ramsey (August 24, 2007). "Tony Kushner as film subject". Jewish Independent. Archived from the original on November 7, 2007.
  28. ^ David Zax and Ted Merwin (2007), The Playwright's Politics Moment Magazine
  29. ^ The Board of Trustees Archived September 29, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, UNY
  30. ^ Podcast: Board of Trustees Public Hearing, May 2, 2011 (1:04:00-1:14:00), CUNY, May 2, 2011
  31. ^ Transcript of CUNY Trustee's Speech on Kushner Award, The New York Times, May 6, 2011
  32. ^ Kushner Crisis (blog) Archived May 8, 2011, at the Wayback Machine, CUNY GC Advocate
  33. ^ Statement on Honorary Degrees at the City University of New York Archived June 22, 2018, at the Wayback Machine, CUNY, May 5, 2011
  34. ^ Shamir, Shlomo; Mozgovaya, Natasha (May 6, 2011). "CUNY trustee: Kushner must renounce anti-Israel statements to get honorary degree". Haaretz. Retrieved December 26, 2011.
  35. ^ Hu, Winnie (May 6, 2011). "After Reversal, Honor Is Likely for Kushner". The New York Times.
  36. ^ "Dramatist Alludes to Dispute as He Accepts CUNY Honor". The New York Times. June 3, 2011.
  37. ^ "A Statement From Jewish Americans Opposing AIPAC". The Nation. March 20, 2024. Retrieved March 22, 2024.
  38. ^ Lois Smith Brady (May 4, 2003). "Weddings/Celebrations: Vows; Mark Harris and Tony Kushner". The New York Times. Retrieved December 21, 2008.
  39. ^ McCarter, Jeremy (May 28, 2009). "Tony Kushner's Day: The playwright at the heart of America's cultural moment". Newsweek. Retrieved May 5, 2011.
  40. ^ Stockwell, Anne (October 8, 2012). "Love Stories: Tony Kushner and Mark Harris". Advocate. Retrieved October 12, 2012.
  41. ^ "SECOND FLOOR OF SARdi's: A Drink with Michael Mayer". August 24, 2010.
  42. ^ Jonathan Kalb (August 6, 2006). "Still Fearsome, Mother Courage Gets a Makeover". The New York Times. p. 2.4. Retrieved December 21, 2008.
  43. ^ "Tiny Kushner: An Evening of Short Plays". Guthrie Theater. Retrieved December 26, 2011.
  44. ^ [1] Brantley, Ben. The Face Again, Still Gorgeous But a Bit Weary. New York Times. April 9, 2002.
  45. ^ Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship Archived July 10, 2010, at the Wayback Machine, official website.
  46. ^ "Saint Louis Literary Award – Saint Louis University". Archived from the original on August 23, 2016. Retrieved July 25, 2016.
  47. ^ The Lincoln Forum

Further reading