David Henry Hwang
Playwright, Screenwriter, & Librettist
M. Butterfly and Chinglish
Few writers have turned issues around ethnicity and identity into a widely acclaimed and award-winning career like David Henry Hwang. This Chinese American playwright, 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," is best known as the author of M. Butterfly. That 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. His most recent libretto is for An American Soldier, with music by Huang Ruo. The opera premiered at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater in June 2014.
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, based on her album, for the Public Theatre.
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, his 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 1994–2001, 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, 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 David Henry Hwang was named director of Columbia University’s School of the Arts' M.F.A. program in playwriting.
Hwang lives in Brooklyn with his wife, actress Kathryn Layng, and their two children.
"David Henry Hwang is a true original. A native of Los Angeles, born to immigrant parents, he has one foot on each side of the cultural divide. He knows America— its vernacular, its social landscape, its theatrical traditions. He knows the same about China. In his plays, he manages to mix both of these conflicting cultures until he arrives at a style that is wholly his own. Mr. Hwang's works have the verve of the well-made American stage comedies and yet, with little warning, they bubble over into the mystical rituals of Asian stagecraft. By at once bringing West and East into conflict and unity, this playwright has found the perfect way to dramatize both the pain and humor of the immigrant experience."— Frank Rich, The New York Times
"Hwang has the potential to become the first important dramatist of American public life since Arthur Miller, and maybe the best of them all."— William A. Henry III, Time
"David Henry Hwang is one of the most intelligent and original voices in the American theatre."— Detroit News