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Day of the Sparrow

Tony Kushner

Tony Kushner

Tony Kushner appeared at Temple Emanuel in Kingston, N.Y., two Sundays ago. He didn’t give a speech; he was interviewed by another playwright, Rinne Groff. Kushner has the prosperous, worried, intelligent air of an MD—except that he also looks famous. When you observe his elongated face and receding chin, wreathed by curling hair, you think: “I’ve seen this guy before!” Like all slightly famous people, you recognize him, as if he has visited your dreams.

Tony speaks very fast, has an excellent memory, and is entirely a Jewish overachiever. “Are you a Jewish writer?” Rinne asked, at one point. “Oh, yes,” Tony replied. “I’m a Jewish writer, a Southern writer, a gay writer, a Left writer. I love labels!” Then he reconsidered “Southern.” Tony grew up in Lake Charles, La., but how Southern is he ultimately?

He’s a strangely egoless man, like an epidemiologist returning from Africa after helping with the latest plague. And Kushner is a kind of epidemiologist! He wrote Angels in America to help stop AIDS—and it worked!

(Incidentally, I brought no tape recorder or notepad with me; all these quotations are the product of my flawed memory.)

The “interview”—which was really a series of monologues—ended, and questions were solicited from the audience. I stood among the questioners, and the moment I reached the microphone, Rinne announced: “I see that there are still questions, but I’m so sorry, we must finish up now.” So I followed Tony to the book-signing line in the adjoining room. I stood at the rear of the line, and when he had finished chatting with everyone else—for he is extremely garrulous—and his agent, a thin woman with dyed blonde hair, was presenting him with 10 more children’s books to autograph (Brundibar, illustrated by Maurice Sendak), I finally asked my question: "Was Lincoln gay?”

“I think it’s quite possible that he was,” Tony replied thoughtfully. “There’s a story about Richard Henry Dana, the author of Two Years Before the Mast. He and his son both served under Lincoln, and it was rumored around Washington that Lincoln spent the night with the son. Also, a soldier wrote in a letter: ‘Mr. Lincoln gave me a warm hug, and didn’t want to let go.’

“But I don’t think Lincoln was intimate with Joshua Speed, because when he nominated Speed’s brother for a post, he told the newspapers, ‘I slept with his brother for three years,’ and he never would’ve said that if they were really lovers. But of course, we’ll never know for sure.” Tony paused. “Also, many geniuses are homosexual, for some reason: Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Tchaikovsky.”

Yes, Kushner believes Shakespeare was gay!

Sparrow lives in a double-wide trailer in Phoenicia, N.Y., with his wife, Violet Snow. He often writes for Ground Report. Sparrow has run for President of the United States five times. More by Sparrow

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