Keynote Speakers

Tony Kushner

Tony Kushner Born in New York City in 1956, and raised in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Kushner is best known for his two-part epic,Angels In America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes. His other plays include A Bright Room Called Day; Slavs!; Hydriotaphia; Homebody/Kabul; and Caroline, or Change, the musical for which he wrote book and lyrics, with music by composer Jeanine Tesori. Kushner has translated and adapted Pierre Corneille's The Illusion, S.Y. Ansky's The Dybbuk, Bertolt Brecht's The Good Person of Sezuan and Mother Courage and Her Children, and the English-language libretto for the children’s opera Brundibár by Hans Krasa. He wrote the screenplays for Mike Nichols’ film of Angels in America, and Steven Spielberg’s Munich. In 2012 he wrote the screenplay for Spielberg's movie Lincoln. His screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award, and won the New York Film Critics Circle Award, Boston Society of Film Critics Award, Chicago Film Critics Award, and several others. His books include But the Giraffe: A Curtain Raising, and Brundibar: the Libretto, 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. His recent work includes a collection of one-act plays entitled Tiny Kushner, and The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures. In addition, a revival of Angels in America ran off-Broadway at the Signature Theater and won the Lucille Lortel Award in 2011 for Outstanding Revival.

Kushner is the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, an Emmy Award, two Tony Awards, three Obie Awards, an Arts Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a PEN/Laura Pels Award, a Spirit of Justice Award from the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, a Cultural Achievement Award from The National Foundation for Jewish Culture, a Chicago Tribune Literary Prize for lifetime achievement, the 2012 National Medal of Arts, and the 2015 Lifetime Achievement in the American Theater Award, among many others. Caroline, or Change, produced at the National Theatre of Great Britain, received the Evening Standard Award, the London Drama Critics’ Circle Award and the Olivier Award for Best Musical. In September 2008, Tony Kushner became the first recipient of the Steinberg Distinguished Playwright Award, the largest theater award in the US. He is the subject of a documentary film, Wrestling with Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner, made by the Oscar-winning filmmaker Freida Lee Mock. He lives in Manhattan with his husband, Mark Harris.

In “After Angels,” a profile of Tony Kushner published in The New Yorker, John Lahr wrote: “[Kushner] is fond of quoting Melville’s heroic prayer from Mardi and Voyage Thither (“Better to sink in boundless deeps than float on vulgar shoals”), and takes an almost carnal glee in tackling the most difficult subjects in contemporary history – among them, AIDS and the conservative counter-revolution (Angels In America), Afghanistan and the West (Homebody/Kabul), German Fascism and Reaganism (A Bright Room Called Day), the rise of capitalism (Hydriotaphia, or the Death of Dr. Browne), and racism and the civil rights movement in the South (Caroline, or Change). But his plays, which are invariably political, are rarely polemical. Instead Kushner rejects ideology in favor of what he calls “a dialectically shaped truth,” which must be “outrageously funny” and “absolutely agonizing,” and must “move us forward.” 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.”

Daphne Brooks

Daphne Brooks Daphne A. Brooks is Professor of African American Studies and Theater Studies at Yale. She has authored two books: Bodies in Dissent: Spectacular Performances of Race and Freedom, 1850-1910 (Durham, NC: Duke UP), and Jeff Buckley’s Grace (New York: Continuum, 2005), which won The Errol Hill Award for Outstanding Scholarship on African American Performance from ASTR. Brooks is currently working on a new book entitled Subterranean Blues: Black Women Sound Modernity (Harvard University Press, forthcoming). She has authored numerous articles on race, gender, performance and popular music culture such as “Sister, Can You Line It Out?: Zora Neale Hurston & the Sound of Angular Black Womanhood” in Amerikastudien/American Studies, “‘Puzzling the Intervals’: Blind Tom and the Poetics of the Sonic Slave Narrative” in The Oxford Handbook of the African American Slave Narrative, “Nina Simone’s Triple Play” in Callaloo and “‘All That You Can' Leave Behind: Surrogation & Black Female Soul Singing in the Age of Catastrophe” in Meridians. Brooks is also the author of the liner notes for The Complete Tammi Terrell (Universal A&R, 2010) and Take a Look: Aretha Franklin Complete on Columbia (Sony, 2011), each of which has won the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for outstanding music writing. She is the editor of The Great Escapes: The Narratives of William Wells Brown, Henry Box Brown, and William Craft (New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2007) and The Performing Arts volume of The Black Experience in the Western Hemisphere Series, eds. Howard Dodson and Colin Palmer (New York: Pro-Quest Information & Learning, 2006).