Janet S. Wolf
Tony Kushner was born in New York City to a Reform Jewish, politically liberal, artistic family. Both of his parents were symphony musicians, and his mother was the first woman to hold a principal chair in a major symphony orchestra (The New York City Opera orchestra). They moved to Louisiana when Kushner was two, because his parents inherited a family lumber business. He grew up in Lake Charles, Louisiana, but returned to Manhattan for college. At Columbia University he received a B.A. in medieval studies (his interest in the history of early modern Europe is apparent in Hydriotaphia and Angels in America). He then earned the M.F.A. in directing at New York University (NYU). In his undergraduate and graduate years, he saw as many plays in Manhattan as he possibly could. During these years, he was in therapy to try to change his sexual orientation, but in 1981, he called his mother from a pay phone in New York to tell her he was gay. He used this incident in Angels in America, when Joe Pitt calls his mother in Salt Lake City to tell her: “Mom. Momma, I’m a homosexual, Momma” (75). Kushner has written against the American cult of individualism and is scrupulous about acknowledging the help of colleagues, family, and friends (“Friends” 149). An important friend is Kimberly Flynn, whom he met at NYU and who played one of the Ranters in the first production of Hydriotaphia. Flynn was seriously injured in a car crash, and Kushner became her caregiver. That experience, along with the death of his mother, influenced the writing of Angels in America. He dedicated Slavs and Homebody/Kabul to his mother.
After the success of the prizewinning Angels, Kushner again attracted media attention in the fall of 2001, as he began rehearsals for the December premiere of Homebody/Kabul, a play that focuses on contemporary Afghanistan. Kushner