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Think Forum: David Henry Hwang (2019)

Speaker for the 2019-2020 Think Forum Lecture Series


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Jennifer Starkey
Kelvin Smith Library 201-F

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The Kelvin Smith Library provides the campus community with access to world-class research collections, technology-equipped classrooms and meeting spaces, state-of-the-art digital resources and even a café. In support of the “Think Forum Lecture Series,” the library offers a selection of resources accessible in this “Research Guide.”

This guide was prepared for the Think Forum Lecture Series by David Henry Hwang, playwright, screenwriter, television writer, and librettist, on , 2019 at 6 PM. The topic being explored by Mr. Hwang is “Lost (and Found) in Translation: How I Learned to Write What I Don’t Know."

This Kelvin Smith Library Research Guide offers a variety of information below, plus more on these additional pages:


David Henry Hwang profile image

David Henry Hwang is an American playwright, screenwriter, television writer, and librettist. He is also a faculty member of the Theatre Department at Columbia University. Mr. Hwang was born in Los Angeles and graduated from Stanford University in 1979. He attended the Yale School of Drama during 1980 and 1981.  

Hwang started his career as a playwright with a trilogy of Chinese America: FOB (Fresh Off the Boat) (1978), The Dance and the Railroad (1981), and Family Devotions (1981). Between 1983 and 1986, Hwang expanded his thematic vision and wrote four more plays: The House of Sleeping Beauties, The Sound of a Voice, As the Crow Flies, and Rich Relations. These four plays explored themes of "love, deception, death and resurrection."

Hwang is best known for his Tony Award-winning play M. Butterfly, which premiered on Broadway in 1988. The play was inspired by a true story of a French diplomat who carried on a twenty year affair with a Chinese opera singer and spy, without realizing the true gender of his lover. M. Butterfly is the most anthologized Asian American play to date, and it has been produced around the world.

In his recent works, Hwang continued to explore the concerns of race, gender and globalization, as manifested in Golden Child (1996) and Yellow Face (2007). Chinglish (premiered 2011) tells the story of Chinese modernization seen through the eyes of a regular American, and explores an evolving US-China relationship where neither side is exactly what it pretends to be. Kung Fu (premiered 2014) is a biographical play about the martial arts star Bruce Lee, and blends dance, Chinese opera, martial arts and drama into a bold theatrical experience.

Hwang's works also include Broadway musicals Elton John & Tim Rice’s Aida (co-author), Flower Drum Song (2002 revival) and Disney’s Tarzan.  He co-wrote the Gold Record Solo with the late pop icon Prince. Since 2015, he has been working as a Writer/Consulting Producer for the Golden Globe-winning television series The AffairHwang wrote the story and music for An American Soldier, an opera premiered in June 2018 and based on the true story of nineteen-year-old Private Danny Chen. His newest work Soft Power, premiered in May 2018, has won six Ovation Awards and will open in New York in fall 2019.

Hwang is a Tony Award winner and three-time nominee, a three-time OBIE Award winner, and a two-time Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. From 1994–2001, he served by appointment of President Bill Clinton on the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. He is also the most-produced living American opera librettist. Hwang serves on the Board of the Lark Play Development Center, as Head of Playwriting at Columbia University School of the Arts, and as Chair of the American Theatre Wing, founder of the Tony Awards. He avidly advocates for the importance of including Asian Americans in American theatre. In 2018, he was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame.

David Henry Hwang lives in Brooklyn with his wife and their two children.

Think Forum Related Guides

These guides were created to support the previous Town Hall series and the current Think Forum Lecture Series. They are listed in the order of newest first.

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