Tony Kushner: Biography & Plays

Instructor: J.R. Hudspeth

Jackie has taught college English and Critical Thinking and has a Master's degree in English Rhetoric and Composition

Tony Kushner is a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, screenwriter, and author whose works have played everywhere from Broadway to HBO. Read on to find out more about him and a few of his most acclaimed works!


Tony Kushner was born in 1956 in Manhattan and was raised in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Kushner's childhood in Louisiana drastically influenced the ways that he experienced life and what he wrote about in his plays. The experience of having to suppress his homosexuality in the conservative south influenced his personal identity; furthermore, Kushner's experience as a Jewish person in a deeply Christian area heightened his sense of what it feels like to be a member of a minority group.

Kushner was also influenced by McCarthyism in the '50s, which was used to persecute people who were perceived as communists, and by the discrimination and persecution of minority groups that fueled the Civil Rights Movement. These experiences in Lake Charles would directly inspire his play Caroline, or Change.

Eventually, Kushner moved back to New York, and in 1981, he came out as gay on a pay phone call to his mother. Kushner's experiences in New York in the gay and art communities during the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the rise of social conservatism during the era of Ronald Reagan would serve as inspiration for many of his plays, including Angels in America and a Bright Room Called Day.

Tony Kushner, author of multiple award-winning plays
T Kushner

Summaries of Major Plays

Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes

Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes (often shortened as Angels in America) is a play that is seven hours long, in total, and is divided into two parts. It takes place in New York in the 1980s. The plot examines the lives of closeted gay men in the time of both the conservative values of the Reagan era and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Kushner is able to explore his own experiences with coming out and give a sense of how society treated gay men, who were blamed for fostering HIV/AIDS.

A Bright Room Called Day

A Bright Room Called Day was written in 1987. The primary plot follows a group of liberal artists who struggle in their personal and professional lives due to the rise of fascism in 1932 Germany. The main narrative is interrupted throughout the play by a Jewish-American woman from New York the 1980s and scenes of 1980s Berlin. Kushner compares the experiences that minority groups had in a Reagan-led United State to the experiences that Jewish people had under a Hitler-led Germany. In this way, Kushner criticizes the sort of conservative social and economic values that lead to the persecution of minority groups no matter the era.

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