Tony Award-winning playwright, David Henry Hwang, is known as the preeminent Asian American dramatist in the US. His breakthrough play, M. Butterfly—a complicated story of espionage and mistaken sexual identity—received a Tony Award in 1988 and a Pulitzer Prize in 1989.
Born in Los Angeles to a father who worked as a banker and a mother was a piano professor, David himself is educated at Stanford University, from which he earned his B.A. in English in 1979. He became interested in theater after attending plays at the American Conservatory in San Francisco and quickly gave up his marginal interest in law.
David Henry Hwang has been awarded numerous grants including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations, New York State Council on the Arts, and Pew Charitable Trusts.
How did he get started?
David Henry Hwang had written and produced his first play, FOB (”fresh off the boat”) by his senior year. He talks about immigrants being expected to abandon Chinese identity if they are to fit into mainstream American culture. Portraying major characters as figures from Chinese mythology, and produced by Joseph Papp at New York’s Public Theater in 1980, David Henry Hwang still attributes much of his success to Jean.
It’s important to realize that when F.O.B. was produced at the Public, I was twenty-three […] Joe said that he would produce anything I wrote, and subsequently he was quite good to his word and produced my next four plays. To have that sort of context and that confidence from a producer so that one is not working in a vacuum is a wonderful luxury for a developing writer. […] Always having had the resources of the Public, knowing that I would have access to actors and a stage and directors since a very early age and a very early point in my career, I think really helped me develop as a playwright.
After a brief stint as a writing teacher at a Menlo Park high school, David Henry Hwang attended the Yale University School of Drama. Although he didn’t stay to complete a degree, he studied theater history before leaving for the professional theaters of New York City.
David Henry Hwang is best-known for his play M. Butterfly, based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly. Soon after premiering on Broadway in 1988, he became the first Asian American to win the Tony Award for Best Play. He has since pursued interests in opera, film, and the musical theater.
David Henry Hwang is also at work on a new musical —Bruce Lee: Journey to the West, with music and lyrics by David Yazbeck— as well as the screenplay version of the novel Across the Nightingale Floor.