November 29, 2011
Tony Kushner awarded $100,000 prize for challenging status quo
Who said great artists must starve? Tony Kushner, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and screenwriter, and polarizing political voice, will be awarded $100,000 for “Creative Citizenship” at The Nation Institute’s Annual Gala on Dec. 5 in New York.
The award, co-sponsored by The Puffin Foundation and The Nation Institute, both organizations of particular social conscience, is designated for those who have “challenged the status quo through distinctive, courageous, imaginative, and socially responsible work of significance.”
In a press release announcing the prize, the organizations explained their choice thusly:
A closer look at the sponsoring organizations’ social missions indicates Kushner is being recognized for more than work alone. Independent of his art, Kushner is known for his daring political views, especially as they concern Israel. He is outspoken about his philosophical struggles with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which he outlined in the book, “Wrestling with Zion,” a compilation he edited that showcases progressive Jewish-American attitudes towards Israel.
In 2007, Jewish Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman interviewed Kushner on stage at American Jewish University, where he asked Kushner about his Jewish identity and relationship to Israel. In a follow-up editorial, Eshman wrote:
Kushner’s willingness to challenge mainstream opinion on Israel has earned him the ire of more conservative Jewish minds. His outspokenness on the issue, he has said, has sometimes led to mischaracterization of his beliefs. Last May, a public debacle ensued when the trustees of the City University of New York (CUNY) voted to rescind an honorary degree intended for Kushner when a board member objected on account of his views on Israel. An outraged public, which provoked scores of media coverage and a pro-Kushner op-ed in the New York Times, helped to reverse the decision.
In this case, however, it is precisely Kushner’s “unorthodox” views that won him the recognition. The Puffin Foundation is devoted to minority and marginalized artists, and provides artist grants to individuals and organizations working on the fringe (in their words: those “excluded from mainstream opportunities due to their race, gender, or social philosophy”) which coheres with Kushner’s intense focus on civil rights. Likewise, The Nation Institute, a non-profit media organization that promotes progressive ideas (among their online and print publications is The Nation magazine), syncs well with Kushner’s liberal politics. Upon learning of the award, Kushner said, “Like most progressive Americans, I depend on The Nation magazine for serious, scrupulous, courageous reportage and analysis; I’m very proud to have been published in its pages and proud of my association with The Nation Institute.”
He added: “To be a good citizen, much less a creative one, is a tall order, and while I hope I can say I’ve never taken the blessings of citizenship (however abridged these remain, despite recent advances, for the entire LGBT community) for granted, I feel certain that I’ve achieved at best a rudimentary level of sufficiency regarding the obligations that come with the franchise. I can only add that since this will make me feel terrible every time I fail to be a creative citizen, it’ll be a goad to step up my game — since citizenship, like playwriting or the violin, requires practice, practice, practice. I’m so grateful to The Institute and the Puffin Foundation for their wayward taste and misguided judgment, and I plan to keep blushing for several years to come.”
According to the release, Kushner is the 12th recipient of the prize. Past honorees have included the environmental activist Van Jones, human rights lawyer Michael Ratner, “Nickel and Dimed” author Barbara Ehrenreich, professor and anti-death penalty advocate David Protess and labor activist Dolores Huerta.