When Cultures Clash, Creative Sparks Fly - A Discussion with David Henry Hwang
The playwright in conversation with S. Alice Mong, Executive Director, Asia Society Hong Kong Center
"To me, to write well is to battle stereotypes. To write well is to create three-dimensional characters that seem human."
— David Henry Hwang
Playwright David Henry Hwang deconstructs cultural stereotypes and gender absurdities, turning them into critically acclaimed works of dramatic art. Born to immigrant parents from China and the Philippines, the multi-award-winning playwright and librettist often delves deep into issues related to his own Asian-American identity. His first play, F.O.B. (or "fresh off the boat"), was produced in his Stanford University dormitory before moving to New York's Public Theater in 1980, where it won the Obie award for best new play of the season. His breakthrough play, M. Butterfly, a deconstruction of Puccini's opera Madama Butterfly loosely based on a true story of espionage and mistaken sexual identity between a French diplomat and a Chinese opera singer, had a two-year run on Broadway, earning the playwright a 1988 Tony Award for Best Play; it was a finalist for the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
His other plays include The Dance and the Railroad and Family Devotions (1981), Golden Child (1998), and Yellow Face (2007). He has written librettos for operas by composers Philip Glass (The Voyage and 1000 Airplanes on the Roof), Bright Sheng (The Silver River), Osvaldo Golijov (Ainadamar) and Unsuk Chin (Alice), and the book for the Broadway musicals Aida and Tarzan, by Elton John and Phil Collins, respectively. His screenplays include David Cronenberg's film M. Butterfly (1993) and Neil LaBute's Possession (2002). In 2012 he received the William Inge Award for Distinguished Achievement in the American Theatre, the Asia Society Cultural Achievement Award, and the Steinberg Award for playwriting, the largest monetary prize in American theater.
At the Asia Society, the playwright will read excerpts from his works, reflect on his creative inspirations, and offer a sneak preview of his latest cultural comedy Chinglish, which makes its Asian premiere at the Hong Kong Arts Festival in March 2013.