An Interview with David Henry Hwang
This interview is a transcript of a telephone conversation Robert Cooperman had with the playwright on 25 October, 1993. I have thought it appropriate to preserve the informal tone of the interview. [Ed.]
COOPERMAN: I wanted to ask you this one background question: a couple of sources that I have suggest that you came upon theatre rather suddenly. I've read that Arthur Kopit Indians was one source [which started your playwriting career], another was Wilder The Matchmaker. This sort of gave you the playwriting bug. Is this still accurate? What I'm getting at is: you were never exposed to theatre while you were growing up?
HWANG: Not particularly, no. The only way that I was exposed to theatre growing up was, since I was a musician, I had played in the pit orchestras of a lot of musicals. So, I had some familiarity with the basic repertoire of American musical theatre that's done in high school. But other than that not really, no. Indians was actually the first play that I saw--non-musical--and that was my senior year of high school. And then, well, there's The Matchmaker, I guess I did see that my freshman year in college, at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, but certainly it wasn't the only play I saw that year. And I wouldn't say that it's necessarily more influential than some of the other things I saw that year.
COOPERMAN: Were you attracted to writing at all before [the decision to pursue playwriting]?
HWANG: I remember when I entered college they gave me a form to fill out on which I was supposed to list things I might become interested in, and I listed playwriting and journalism. Obviously I never ended up doing the second one, so that seems to be some sort of indication that I had some inkling that I might want to do it when I entered college. In terms of writing I had done--you may have read this in one interview or another--when I was twelve written a kind of 90-page non-fiction; well, no, I guess you'd call it a historical novel, of the history of my family from the last few generations because my maternal grandmother was sick and everybody thought she was going to die soon. And I felt that she was the only one who knew all the family history and therefore I spent the summer with her sort of getting oral histories and all that and putting that into a fairly novelistic form. And then she didn't end up dying, by the way, so that worked out fine. . . . Other than that I didn't really have much experience with writing till I became an undergrad.
COOPERMAN: Now to more particulars: I'm particularly interested in your plays other than M. Butterfly because I think to some extent that great play casts a shadow over your earlier work.