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Pulitzer, Emmy winning writer coming to University of Toledo

The Pulitzer Prize-winning 'Angels in America' author Tony Kushner will speak at the University of Toledo on Sept. 20.
Playwright Tony Kushner, center, and the cast and crew of "Angels in America" accept the award for best revival of a play at the 72nd annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on Sunday, June 10, 2018 - AP Michael Zorn

TOLEDO, Ohio — Pulitzer Prize-winner playwright Tony Kushner will speak at the Edward Shapiro Distinguished Lecture on Sept. 20, an annual event held at the University of Toledo.

The free event will take place at 7 p.m. in the Doermann Theatre in University Hall. Doors will open at 6 p.m. and seating is available on a first-come-first-serve basis. Free parking will be provided in Area 1N off of University Hills Boulevard.

Kushner is most well-known for his two-part epic, "Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes," a play for which he received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Awards for Best Play in 1993 and 1994. The HBO miniseries adaptation of "Angels in America," which Kushner also wrote, earned him an Emmy Award. 

His other works include plays such as "A Bright Room Called Day" and "Slavs!" as well as screenwriting credits in Spielberg films "Munich" and "Lincoln," for which he received Oscar nominations. He is also the screenwriter of Spielberg's recent film, a 2021 remake of "West Side Story." 

"Angels in America" is widely lauded for its handling of late 20th century American issues, such as politics, religion and most prominently, the HIV-AIDS epidemic that claimed the lives of thousands of queer people.

"This [event] is also particularly meaningful event for LGBTQA+ students and community members," Dr. Joseph Gamble said in a press release from the University of Toledo. Gamble is an assistant professor of English at UT who instructs modern drama and LGBTQA+ literature. 

"Kushner is not only one of our greatest living playwrights, he is also one of our greatest living gay artists," Gamble said. "'Angels in America,' in particular, is the single most canonical piece of LGBTQA+ literature, as it chronicles the resiliency of the gay spirit in the face of unimaginable death during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in this country."

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Kushner's work has also been subject to criticism for its candid depiction of controversial themes. Many school districts, including Duval County Schools in Florida have sought to ban the text from classrooms on account of the play's mature content, including sex, sexuality and religion. 

Critics of book-banning cite the importance exposing students to various types of literature to broaden their academic horizons. The National Coalition Against Censorship wrote a letter to Deefield High School in Massachusetts in 2008 after the school considered banning "Angels in America" from its AP English course.

"Confronting difficult themes through literature is part of the educational mission of public schools in general," the NCAC wrote. "Indeed, the school district would put its students at a distinct disadvantage in college if it failed to prepare them to address literature of this sort."

More recently, schools, parents and students continue to debate the types of literature that they believe should or should not be in the classroom. On Aug. 16, a north Texas school board voted to remove 41 books from the classroom for mature content, including a graphic novel adaptation of Anne Franke's diary and Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye."

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As the debate continues over the types of literature allowed in schools, some critics will likely continue to see Kushner's work as controversial, while others will see it as imperative. 

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