Tony Kushner Makes the News
It’s big news when Tony Kushner wins a large cash award from the Puffin Foundation. It’s even bigger when the acclaimed Jewish playwright is embroiled in a scandal, as he was this past May when the CUNY board blocked him from receiving an honorary degree for his allegedly anti-Israel beliefs. And it gets more interesting when Kushner, in his acceptance speech on Monday night, states that he plans to donate the money to a scholarship for the students at the university’s John Jay College campus and jokes that he’ll name it after the CUNY board member who denounced him. (The scholarship part is real; the naming part undoubtedly not.)
The award, called the Puffin / Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship, which is jointly offered by The Nation Institute and the Puffin Foundation, is accompanied by a $100,000 prize. It is given each year at the Institute’s dinner gala, which took place this year at the Metropolitan Pavilion on December 5. The event is closed to the press, but Kushner’s humorous remarks must have been too good to resist, for quotes leaked out into the New York Observer the following day. The Observer scribe wrote that Kushner said
The announcement last month also made the news. The New York Times‘ Art Beat blog led the way on November 28, while theater websites such as Theater Maniafollowed suit. The Jewish Daily Forward ran a round-up post on its Arty Semite blog. The Jewish Journal, in its Hollywood Jew blog, filed a longer piece quoting from their own earlier coverage of the CUNY fracas as well as from the Nation Institute press release, in which Kushner said, in his inimitably humorous way:
The Journal blog post was also picked up by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz online. The Forward ran a profile of Kushner in their December 6, 2011 issue — written prior to the award ceremony on Monday night — which detailed his upbringing:
Kushner’s grandfather was a glazier who was locked out for attempting to organize, which meant that his mother grew up in “terrible poverty in the Bronx” and Kushner himself grew up with an understanding of how labor, society and the production of goods and wealth should relate. Over the past two decades, though, he notes ruefully, those assumptions have been dismantled as the conversation about the right to organized labor has disappeared and the “right to work” state has become the unquestioned norm. “It seems there’s no such thing,” he remarked, “as the category of economic justice.”
Watch this space for the unedited speech that Kushner gave.