Playwright, screenwriter, and activist Tony Kushner is the 2011 recipient of the $100,000 Puffin / Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship. Kushner is being honored for a lifetime of artistic work giving voice to the marginalized, and his outspoken criticism of social injustice. He has tackled everything from AIDS and the conservative backlash (Angels in America), to the civil rights movement in the South (Caroline, or Change), to Afghanistan and the West (Homebody / Kabul), to the rise of capitalism (Hydriotaphia, or the Death of Dr. Browne). As John Lahr wrote in the New Yorker, “He 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. He forces the audience to identify with the marginalized — a humanizing act of the imagination.”
From his award-winning plays to his political writing, Kushner places his faith in the power of an engaged citizenry to transform society. As he wrote in an inspiring 2004 essay, “I do not believe the wicked always win. I believe our despair is a lie we are telling ourselves . . . Not any single one of us has to or possibly can save the world, but . . . with all of us working where we see work to be done, the world will change.”
Perry Rosenstein, President of the Puffin Foundation, Ltd., and the co-founder of the Creative Citizenship award, said “Whether it is in his epochal work for the stage, his screenwriting, or his activism, Tony Kusher manages to balance realism, rigor, and hope. He has weathered distortions of his thinking with grace and determination. His consistent vision of a just, more thoughtful, less fearful world isn't rooted in an easy sentimentality, but in an understanding that true justice will only be achieved through patience and hard work. For his inspiring contributions to our culture and the world of ideas, we are proud and thrilled to honor him with the Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship.”
In May 2011, the trustees of the City University of New York (CUNY) blocked Kushner from receiving an honorary degree from one of their campuses, John Jay College, after a member of their board expressed outrage about his views on Israel, many of which he grossly mischaracterized. Their decision was met by public outrage, with the New York Times editorializing that CUNY “should have embraced the artist and tossed the board member out.” One month later they reversed their decision, and in his graceful acceptance speech Kushner said, “there stands a shining community of people, of spirits of whom I’m proud to be able to call myself kindred, who believe in the necessity of honest exchanges of ideas and opinions, who understand that life is a struggle to synthesize, to find a balance between responsibility and freedom, strategy and truth, survival and ethical humanity.”
Tony Kushner's plays include: A Bright Room Called Day; Angels in America, Parts One and Two; Slavs!; Homebody/Kabul; Caroline, or Change, a musical with composer Jeanine Tesori; and The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide To Capitalism And Socialism With A Key To The Scriptures. He wrote the libretto for the opera A Blizzard on Marblehead Neck, also with Tesori. He has adapted and translated Pierre Corneille's The Illusion, S.Y. Ansky's The Dybbuk, Bertolt Brecht's The Good Person of Szechwan and Mother Courage and Her Children; and the English-language libretto for the opera Brundibár by Hans Krasa. He wrote the screenplays for Mike Nichols' film of Angels In America, and Steven Spielberg's Munich. His books include Brundibar, 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 is currently on location on the set of his latest project, Lincoln, a film adaptation of Doris Kearns Goodwin's best-selling biography, Team of Rivals, starring Daniel Day-Lewis and directed by Steven Spielberg, to be released in 2012.
Kushner is the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize, two Tony Awards, three Obie Awards, two Evening Standard Awards, an Olivier Award, an Emmy Award and an Oscar nomination, among other honors. In 2008, he was the first recipient of the Steinberg Distinguished Playwright Award. He lives in Manhattan with his husband, Mark Harris.