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AAPI Heritage Month Spotlight: David Henry Hwang

David Henry Hwang showed that Asian American voices are a necessity on Broadway. As the eldest of three children, Hwang was born and raised in Los Angeles, California to a banker father and a piano teacher. His parents were avid supporters of the Asian American theatre company East West Players, which rubbed off on the young writer. He began writing short stories at age 12 to comfort his ailing grandmother. With his family’s support, he pursued a writing career by enrolling at Stanford University.

During his time in college, he kickstarted his writing career by creating his first play called FOB. This was the first of his “Trilogy of Chinese America” series and was inspired by his studies with award-winning playwright Sam Shepard and attending Padua Hills Playwrights Festival. He ultimately earned a bachelor’s degree in English before enrolling in the Yale School of Drama’s graduate program. However, he dropped out once his first play began workshopping in New York. Following the success of FOB, he went on to write The Dance and the Railroad and Family Devotions. His career in the theater continued to flourish with his reimagining of M. Butterfly, which made him the first Asian American to win the Tony Award for Best Play and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

While achieving success in the theater world, Hwang also made a name for himself in film and TV. In 1985, he wrote his first TV movie, Blind Alleys, which starred Cloris Leachman and Pat Morita. He went on to write a film adaptation of M. Butterfly, as well as a romantic drama, Golden Gate, featuring Matt Dillon. Additionally, he contributed to an early version of the 2002 mystery Possession. Hwang’s accomplishments extended to Broadway, where he achieved two major successes – the Tony-winning musical Aida and the revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song.

Without revealing any details about the author, it can be said that they have a remarkable career in theatre and opera. They have written several plays, including Yellow Face, which earned them a second opportunity to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. In addition, they have co-written the books for Disney’s Tarzan and an operatic adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. The author’s prolific writing continued throughout the 2000s and 2010s, with notable works such as Chinglish and Kung Fu, a play based on the life of Bruce Lee. Their most recent achievement, a timely musical called Soft Power, written in collaboration with Jeanine Tseori, earned them their third Pulitzer Prize finalist nomination.

Hwang has made a name for himself in the film and TV industry by writing screenplays for animated films. He also worked as a writer and consulting producer on the critically acclaimed Showtime drama The Affair from 2015 to 2019. He has several exciting projects lined up, including a live-action adaptation of Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and an Anna May Wong biopic featuring Gemma Chan from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He will be returning to TV as the showrunner for the upcoming series Billion Dollar Whale.

David Henry Hwang was a trailblazer in promoting Asian and Asian American culture on Broadway. He skillfully combined Eastern and Western influences and used his platform to showcase diverse storytelling. Although his contributions as a theater impresario have not always been recognized, I will say, “Mr. Hwang, we appreciate the diverse storytelling you brought to the stage.”

You can’t be a playwright without believing there’s an audience for adventurous work.

David Henry Hwang
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