David Henry Hwang

Doris Duke Artist Award, 2014

New York, NY

David Henry Hwang is a playwright whose incisive investigations of Asian-American identity and ethnicity have earned him the title of a “true original” (The New York Times). Since winning a Tony Award for his play M. Butterfly (1988), he has written for films, musicals, operas, and theatre. He is currently the most produced living opera librettist, working extensively with Philip Glass, among other world-renowned composers. His recent plays include Kung Fu (2014), a biographical play about Bruce Lee; Chinglish (2011), about an American businessman in China, which received a Drama Desk Nomination (2012); and Yellow Face (2007), a semi-autobiographical play about the fluidity of race, which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist (2008) and won an OBIE Award for Playwriting (2008). He has received a Steinberg Playwright Award (2012), a USA Fellowship (2012), and a MAP Fund grant (2008), and was named a Ford Foundation Artist of Change (2015). Upcoming productions include two new operas, and the world premiere of Soft Power (working title). He heads the MFA Playwriting Program at Columbia University.

  • Photo Credit: Lia Chang
  • Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
    KUNG FU (2014)
  • Photo Credit: Kevin Berne
    CHINGLISH (2012)
  • YELLOW FACE (2014), adapted from David Henry Hwang’s 2007 play
  • Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
    YELLOW FACE (2007)
  • Photo Credit: Richard Termine
    GOLDEN CHILD (1996, performed in 2013)

What fuels your impulse to make creative work?

Back when I was a college undergraduate, I had the good fortune to study with acclaimed dramatists Sam Shepard and Maria Irene Fornes. They encouraged us to write from our subconscious, to brave following impulses our conscious minds might not understand. As a Chinese American born in Los Angeles, I had not heretofore given much thought to my ethnicity, regarding this history as a minor personal detail. When I began writing from my subconscious, however, stories started appearing on my page—about immigration, assimilation, East-West cultural interactions. Clearly, some part of me was incredibly interested in these issues, but my conscious mind hadn’t figured that out yet. Ever since, writing has been a way to hold the mirror up to my inner self, to discover how I really feel about myself and the world around me. In a literal sense, the artist creates art; it is equally true, however, that art recreates the artist.