Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Kushner Says Writing 'Lincoln' Changed His Life; Pulitzer Prize Winner Will Accept St. Louis Literary Award on Tuesday

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Kushner Says Writing 'Lincoln' Changed His Life; Pulitzer Prize Winner Will Accept St. Louis Literary Award on Tuesday

Article excerpt

Tony Kushner, who spent the last six years immersed in the Civil War, says Abraham Lincoln taught him to make an important distinction:

Purity is not the same thing as ethics.

A Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning playwright best known for the two-part masterpiece "Angels in America," Kushner wrote the screenplay for "Lincoln," the Steven Spielberg movie that will be released next month. It's based on "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Writing the screenplay was "a life-changing experience," said Kushner. On Tuesday, he will be here to accept the 2012 St. Louis Literary Award, presented by the St. Louis University Library Associates. Past recipients of the annual honor include playwrights Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Edward Albee and August Wilson, as well as acclaimed poets, novelists and others. Mario Vargas Llosa received the award last year.

"I think I was heading there anyway, but (studying) Lincoln reinvigorated my belief in democracy," Kushner said.

"It challenged me to ask questions about compromise, which is difficult but necessary. In a democracy, you have to compromise."

Preparing to write "Lincoln," which focuses on the last months of the president's life, Kushner visited Gettysburg, Pa. (though not Springfield, Ill.). Mostly, he read voluminously, an experience that steadily increased his admiration for a president who worked with his own political enemies to free the slaves and sustain the Union.

Although his work on Lincoln is officially over, "it's hard to move on," Kushner said. "Abraham Lincoln was a tremendously beautiful person." Furthermore, with an election right around the corner, he thinks Lincoln's approach to governance merits voters' attention.

"I think the film is very timely," he said. "I have been thinking about the similarity between the secession crisis (of the 1860s) and the idea that you hear today that government is the enemy - that the contract people have with one another is tissue-thin, and that we can dissolve it if we want to. …

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