Columbians Ahead of Their Time
 Tony Kushner
Tony Kushner Photograph Credit: Gloria Wegener "My day job is playwright. My citizen job is activist. That's every citizen's job. I succeed and fail at both my jobs, but I try to do them both."

Tony Kushner (1956– )
Columbia College 1978

By turns realistic and fantastic, the plays of Tony Kushner are known for their witty, sophisticated and wide-ranging examination of a variety of subjects: politics, sexuality, religion, economics, and much more. Kushner was a moderately successful off-Broadway playwright when he gained widespread acclaim for 1991's Angels in America, which Newsweek described as "the broadest, deepest, most searching American play of our time." Staged in two parts, the seven-hour production set stories of individuals against the broader political backdrop occasioned by the rise of AIDS. It brought its author numerous honors, including the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Drama; a 2003 television version gained Angels an even wider audience. Openly gay and a self-avowed socialist, Kushner continued to explore the personal and the political in subsequent plays such as Slavs! (1994) and Homebody/Kabul (2001). His latest production, Caroline, or Change (2004), is a musical inspired by Kushner's childhood: It centers on an African American maid who works for a Jewish family in the segregated South of the 1960s. Kushner has collaborated with the noted illustrator Maurice Sendak on a children's book, and has also taught at New York University.

Kushner was born in New York but grew up in small-town Louisiana. As a Columbia College student he reviewed theater for the Spectator. Kushner frequently addresses college audiences, using his platform to advocate for, among other things, public funding for the arts. At Columbia's 2004 commencement he exhorted college graduates to face the challenges of the world head-on: "Seek the truth; when you find it, speak the truth; interrogate mercilessly the truth you've found; and act, act, act."

Read more about Kushner in the Columbia Encyclopedia.

The celebrated playwright addressed 2004 College graduates.


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