Los Angeles – Writers Guild and Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Tony Kushner has been chosen to receive the WGAW’s 2013 Paul Selvin Award for his adapted screenplay for Lincoln. Named after the late Selvin, who served as counsel to the Guild, the award is given to the WGA member whose script best embodies the spirit of the constitutional and civil rights and liberties, which are indispensable to the survival of free writers everywhere. Kushner will be recognized, along with other honorees, at the Writers Guild Awards ceremony on Sunday, February 17, at the JW Marriott Los Angeles L.A. LIVE.
“Tony Kushner’s eloquent script for Lincoln reminds us that, though we like to think of ourselves as the land of the free, in practice, freedom and equality are never a given, and that they are won only through struggle, often by the narrowest of margins and the greatest of sacrifice. The Guild is honored to recognize it with this award,” said WGAW President Christopher Keyser.
“I’m happy and moved to learn that I’ve been selected as this year’s recipient for the Paul Selvin Award. Paul Selvin was a lawyer who worked hard for unions and civil rights. I love unions, especially the WGA; I love lawyers – Lincoln was a lawyer! The best thing about working on the Lincoln screenplay was having to think a lot about the centrality of civil rights to the functioning of democratic society and the means by which those rights are secured, so it means a lot to me to receive this lovely honor. I’m very grateful to the WGA, West,” said screenwriter Kushner.
Framing Lincoln’s presidency within the illuminating window of the final months leading up to his assassination in April 1865, Kushner’s adapted screenplay is based in part on the book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. At the heart of the film is the crucial dilemma Lincoln faced: whether or not to consider a peace proposal from a Confederate delegation which could swiftly end the Civil War knowing it would doom his bold attempt to gain passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Lincoln’s fight to abolish slavery would mean prolonging the bloody conflict that was causing catastrophic losses.
In development for more than a decade, Lincoln, a co-production between DreamWorks Pictures and 20th Century Fox, distributed by Touchstone Pictures/Disney, is directed by Steven Spielberg (Schindler’s List) and stars actor Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood) in an exceptional performance, Sally Field (Norma Rae) as Mary Todd Lincoln, and Tommy Lee Jones (The Fugitive) as U.S. Congressman and fierce abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens.
Lincoln is the second Kushner-Spielberg creative collaboration: the playwright-screenwriter and director-producer first worked together on 2005’s Munich, for which Kushner shared both Academy Award and Golden Globe screenplay nominations (Screenplay by Tony Kushner and Eric Roth, Based on the book Vengeance by George Jonas). The film, chronicling the “Black September” aftermath of the terrorist assassination of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, earned a total of five Oscar nominations, including Best Motion Picture and Best Achievement in Directing for Spielberg.
In addition to earning a WGA nomination for Adapted Screenplay, Lincoln recently garnered twelve Academy Award nominations, including nods for Best Picture, Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published for Kushner, and Best Achievement in Directing for Spielberg, as well as seven Golden Globe Award nominations, including Best Screenplay – Motion Picture. Kushner also recently received Best Screenplay trophies from the Broadcast Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Circle, and Boston Society of Film Critics for his Lincoln screenplay.
Kushner earned a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, as well as two Tony Awards for Best Play, for his two-part AIDS crisis-themed play, Angels in America (1993’s “Angels in America: Millennium Approaches” and 1994’s “Angels in America: Perestroika”), which was later produced a decade after its original theatrical run as a major HBO miniseries directed by Mike Nichols, earning
Kushner a 2004 Emmy Award for his teleplay adaptation of his own play (Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries, Movie, or Dramatic Special), a 2005 Writers Guild Award for Long Form Adapted for “Millennium Approaches – Part I,” “Perestroika – Part II,” and a 2004 Humanitas Prize (90-Minute or Longer Network or Syndicated Television) for his work.
Kushner’s slate of acclaimed plays also includes “Slavs!,” Homebody/Kabul,” “A Bright Room Called Day,” the musical “Caroline, or Change,” Tony-nominated for Best Book of a Musical and Best Score, and the opera “A Blizzard on Marblehead Neck,” both conceived with collaborator-composer Jeanine Tesori, as well as “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures.” He has also adapted and translated Pierre Corneille’s “The Illusion,” S.Y. Ansky’s “The Dybbuk,” and Bertolt Brecht’s “The Good Person of Sezuan” and “Mother Courage and Her Children,” as well as the English-language libretto for the opera “Brundibár” by Hans Krasa.
On the literary front, he has collaborated with children’s author-illustrator Maurice Sendak on several books, including Brundibar and The Art of Maurice Sendak, 1980 to the Present. His other books include Wrestling with Zion: Progressive Jewish-American Responses to the Palestinian/Israeli Conflict, co-edited with Alisa Solomon.
Over the course of writing career, Kushner has also received three Obie Awards, two Evening Standard Awards, an Olivier Award, and the Steinberg Distinguished Playwright Award, among other honors. In 2010, Kushner received the “Golden Apple Award” from the Casting Society of America (CSA) for his diverse body of film and theatrical work.
Born in 1956 in New York City, Writers Guild, East member Kushner spent most of his childhood in Lake Charles, Louisiana. He received his B.A. in Medieval Studies from Columbia University, later earning his graduate degree from New York University’s Graduate Acting Program at the Tisch School of the Arts. Among numerous honorary doctorates he has received over the years, Kushner was awarded an honorary doctorate degree from Brandeis University in 2006, received an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters from SUNY Purchase College in 2008, and received an honorary doctorate from CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 2011. He currently lives in Manhattan with his husband, Entertainment Weekly columnist and author Mark Harris.
Previous recipients of the Paul Selvin Award include Eric Roth, Michael Mann, Jason Horwitch, Don Payne, Robert Eisele & Jeffrey Porro, Dustin Lance Black, Anthony Peckham, Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth, and, most recently, Tate Taylor.