Arts & Entertainment Industry Forum: David Henry Hwang

Tony Award-winning American playwright, screenwriter, and theater professor David Henry Hwang stops by for an interview with Jim Gabour (11/05/2012).

About David Henry Hwang

David Henry Hwang is a Tony Award-winning American playwright, librettist, screenwriter, and theater professor. Described by The New York Times as "a true original" and by Time magazine as "the first important dramatist of American public life since Arthur Miller," Hwang is best known as the author of M. Butterfly. The enduring 1988 work, which won a Tony Award, Drama Desk Award, John Gassner Award, and Outer Critics Circle Award, was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. To date, M. Butterfly has been staged in over four dozen countries and was the basis for a major motion picture.

To describe Hwang as a major American dramatist is something of an understatement. His play, Golden Child, premiered Off-Broadway at the Joseph Papp Public Theater, received an Obie Award, and subsequently played on Broadway, where it received three Tony nominations. Yellow Face, which premiered at Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum and New York's Public Theater, also won an Obie Award, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Chinglish premiered at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, where it won a 2011 Jefferson Award for Best New Work, before moving to Broadway and being named Best New American Play of 2011 by Time magazine. Other plays from his 30 year career include FOB (Obie Award), The Dance & the Railroad (Drama Desk Nomination, CINE Golden Eagle Award), and Family Devotions (Drama Desk Nomination).

According to Opera News, Hwang is America’s most-produced living opera librettist. He has written four works with composer Philip Glass, including 1000 Airplanes on the Roof, while other of his libretti have been performed at the Metropolitan Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Bavarian State Opera, Lincoln Center, Spoleto Festival USA and elsewhere. The Deutsche Grammofone recording of his libretto for Ainadamar won two Grammy Awards after having spent time at the top of Billboard magazine’s classical music charts. He also wrote the libretto for An American Soldier, with music by Huang Ruo, which premiered at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater in June 2014. Most recently he has written the libretto for Dream of the Red Chamber, with a score by Bright Sheng. The work was commissioned by the San Francisco Opera and premiered in September 2016.

Hwang's Broadway musicals include a new book for Rodgers & Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song, which earned a Tony nomination, and Disney’s Tarzan, which played on Broadway and has been running for six years in Europe. Hwang also co-wrote the book for the international hit Aida, with music and lyrics by Elton John and Tim Rice. It won four Tony Awards and ran over four years on Broadway. Currently, Hwang is writing The Forgotten Arm with singer/songwriter Aimee Mann and Paul Bryant for the Public Theatre. He is also working on a new play, Soft Power.

Hwang's screen work is just as notable. He penned the screenplay for M. Butterfly, a Warner Brothers release directed by David Cronenberg; Golden Gate, directed by John Madden; The Lost Empire, a four-hour NBC television miniseries; and co-authored Possession, starring Gwyneth Paltrow. He is currently writing a feature for Dreamworks Animation, as well as the movie adaptation of Chinglish, to be directed by Justin Lin (Fast and Furious). In 2013, Yellow Face became the first major play to be adapted specifically for YouTube, produced by Justin Lin. Hwang is a writer-producer for the Golden Globe-winning TV series The Affair, and is also developing an original television series, Shanghai, for Lionsgate and the Bravo Network.

A native of Los Angeles, Hwang attended Stanford University and the Yale University School of Drama. From 1994 to 2001, he served by appointment of President Bill Clinton on the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. In 2012, Hwang received the William Inge Award for Distinguished Achievement in the American Theatre, the Asia Society Cultural Achievement Award, the PEN/Laura Pels Award for a Master American Dramatist, as well as the Steinberg Award for playwriting - which is the largest monetary prize in the American theater. Hwang succeeded Athol Fugard as the Residency One Playwright at the New York City’s Signature Theatre, which is currently producing a season of his work, including the world premiere of his most recent play, Kung Fu, about the iconic martial artist Bruce Lee. In 2014, Hwang was named director of Columbia University’s School of the Arts' M.F.A. program in playwriting. Since 2016, Hwang has served as chair of the American Theater Wing.