May 9, 2011 | The University
“Mr. Chairperson, I would now like to take this opportunity to voice my strong support for the proposal by John Jay College to grant an honorary degree to Tony Kushner. Indeed, from the time the proposal was first sent to me for approval—a proposal I readily endorsed—I have consistently expressed that Mr. Kushner’s extraordinary body of work and enormous artistic contributions should be recognized by this University.
“A playwright and writer, he is probably best known for his two-part play, Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes. Other plays include A Bright Room Called Day, Homebody/Kabul, Caroline, or Change, and his latest, The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism & Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures. He has also written screenplays, books, and translations.
“Among Mr. Kushner’s many awards are a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, two Tony Awards, an Emmy Award, three Obie Awards, an Oscar nomination, an Arts Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the PEN/Laura Pels Award for a Mid-Career Playwright, a Spirit of Justice Award from the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, and a Cultural Achievement Award from The National Foundation for Jewish Culture.
“The titles of his plays alone indicate what so many people have praised about them: they are wide-ranging, complex, emotional, dark, intelligent, and funny. Similar to Angels in America, which considers and complicates issues like AIDS, religion, politics, the supernatural, and gender roles, his works as a whole bring together many points of view. They celebrate a struggle for meaning and truth, a curiosity and sensitivity about a world that often seems contradictory, harsh, unfair, and wondrous, all at once. I think this is the best that we can ask of our artists, that through their art, they move us to reconsider what we thought we knew and to pay close attention to the lives of others. That gift is what connects us all.
“As anyone who has experienced Mr. Kushner’s work knows, he is not afraid to provoke, to reveal emotion at the gut level, but always to the higher purpose of creating for audiences the chorus of voices and complexity of intent that define our collective humanity. His expression is grounded in compassion, empathy, and intellectual rigor. In the spirit of all great artists, he challenges orthodoxy, confronts assumptions, and tests certainties, and, in so doing, ignites our imaginations, illuminates issues and ideas, and expands our vision—whether or not we agree with him, whether or not we take exception to some of his conclusions.
“I believe that in many ways this is also the highest ideal of the university—a search for knowledge and understanding that values questions, dialogue, and dissent. We do not shy away from the difficult, the unpopular, the mysterious; rather, these are the areas that most deserve our careful scholarly attention and our deepest humanity. At an institution like The City University of New York, woven together by disparate voices and diverse interests and connected by our shared search for meaning and our respect for the individual answers to these questions, honoring an artist committed to the highest purposes of art can only elevate our own historic mission. Mr. Chairperson, for these reasons, I urge this committee to approve an honorary degree for Tony Kushner as part of the slate of honorary degrees proposed to the Board of Trustees. Thank you.”