Tony Kushner's Tumult and Triumph

CUNY Honor, $100,000 Prize and Working With Spielberg, Highlights of a Busy Year

Exhausting Year: First he won an honorary degree from the City University of New York. Then it was rescinded, then he got it after all. Tony Kushner capped the year by winning a $100,000 prize. And he’s working on a Lincoln biopic with Steven Spielberg.
jonathan kesselman
Exhausting Year: First he won an honorary degree from the City University of New York. Then it was rescinded, then he got it after all. Tony Kushner capped the year by winning a $100,000 prize. And he’s working on a Lincoln biopic with Steven Spielberg.

By Dan Friedman

Published December 05, 2011, issue of December 09, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

I half expected to see the picture of Tennessee Williams that sat on Tony Kushner’s office desk. I didn’t expect the picture of Pep Guardiola, the youngest and most successful manager in the history of Barcelona Football Club, to be sitting right next to it. A present from the late poet Thom Gunn, its presence on his desk is a testament to Kushner’s sentimentality as well as to the wide regard in which Kushner is held.

On December 5, he is slated to receive a $100,000 prize for Creative Citizenship by The Nation Institute and The Puffin Foundation. The honor recognizing his socially conscious work will be a happy ending to an exhausting year for America’s leading playwright. In July, Kushner brought to a close almost two years of work on an important retrospective season that began in 2010 with a major restaging of both parts of the era-shaping “Angels in America.” Having a new generation of actors interpreting the parts helped him finish and resolve some of the problems that had been bothering him about “Perestroika” for nearly 20 years. Over the summer, he premiered the mini-opera “A Blizzard on Marblehead Neck” at Glimmerglass Festival. Co-written with his “Caroline, or Change” collaborator Jeanine Tesori and based on an episode in the life of Eugene O’Neill, it was successful enough that the Metropolitan Opera has commissioned a full opera from the two of them.

And since October he has been on set with Steven Spielberg, filming and re-writing the epic “Lincoln.” It’s a project in which he became engrossed almost as soon as they finished making “Munich” in 2005, and it is, he says, “the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.” In the midst of all this, Kushner had to deal with a media kerfuffle when trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld nearly scuppered an attempt by the City University of New York to give him an honorary degree, levelling ill-founded accusations of anti-Zionism at the writer.

The retrospective with Signature Theatre Company was also the occasion for the premiere of his first major new play in almost a decade, in partnership with the Public Theater. The title of “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures” (also known as IHO) suggests, with a nod to George Bernard Shaw, that it will be “a treatise,” but what Kushner himself likes about the title is that when you go, the play is “intriguing and enigmatic.”

Though the play met with mixed reviews, it does illustrate, Kushner said, the paradox “that the world is only really legible once you give up the idea that the world is literal and offers its meaning easily.

“For me,” he continued, “the most important thing that I got out of Marx and Brecht and Shakespeare was that you have to use your brain and try and read the world.”

Kushner is a little worried about the ability of his country to read the world. “Empty, the daughter, in an earlier draft of the play [IHO], mentions PATCO,” he said, “but a number of my younger friends, very very smart people, political people, had no idea what PATCO was.” That the pivotal breaking of the air traffic controllers’ strike in the early Reagan years has faded into insignificance shows what a toll the heavy drip, drip, drip of propaganda over decades has taken on American ideas of social justice.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.