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Ayad Akhtar (born October 28, 1970) is an American-born playwright, novelist, and screenwriter of Pakistani heritage who received the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. His work has received two Tony Award nominations for Best Play and an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.[1] Akhtar's writing covers various themes including the American-Muslim experience, religion and economics, immigration, and identity. In 2015, The Economist wrote that Akhtar's tales of assimilation "are as essential today as the work of Saul Bellow, James Farrell, and Vladimir Nabokov were in the 20th century in capturing the drama of the immigrant experience."[2]

Ayad Akhtar
Ayad akhtar 2012.jpg
Akhtar at the 2012 Texas Book Festival
Born (1970-10-28) October 28, 1970 (age 49)
EducationBrown University (BA)
Columbia University (MFA)
OccupationPlaywright, Novelist
Years active2002–present
Notable work
American Dervish (2012)
Disgraced (2012)
Junk: The Golden Age of Debt (2016)
AwardsPulitzer Prize for Drama
Award in Literature, American Academy of Arts and Letters
Steinberg Playwright Award

Background and careerEdit

Akhtar was born in Staten Island, New York City and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Akhtar's interest in literature was initially sparked in high school.[3] Akhtar attended Brown University, where he majored in theater and religion and began acting and directing student plays.[4] After graduation he moved to Italy to work with Jerzy Grotowski, eventually becoming his assistant.[5] Upon returning to the United States, Akhtar taught acting alongside Andre Gregory and earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in film directing from Columbia University School of the Arts.[6]

In 2012, Akhtar published his first novel American Dervish, a coming-of-age story about a Pakistani-American boy growing up in Milwaukee. The book was met with critical acclaim, described by The New York Times as "self-assured and effortlessly told."[7][8] American Dervish has been published in over 20 languages and was a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year. Akhtar's narration of the audio book was nominated for an Audie Award in 2013.[9]

Akhtar's first produced play, Disgraced premiered at The American Theater Company in Chicago before being staged at Lincoln Center Theater in New York.[10][11] The play went on to win the Obie Award and the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and premiered at the Bush Theatre in London that spring.[12][13] The play opened on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre on October 23, 2014 and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play.[14][15]

Akhtar's second play The Who & The What premiered at La Jolla Playhouse in February 2014,[16] followed by a run at Lincoln Center Theater in June. The Who & The What has gone on to be produced around the world with notable productions in Berlin, Hamburg, and the Burgtheater in Vienna, Austria.[17] The latter production has run for almost two years and won Austrian film star Peter Simonischek the Nestroy Award for Best Actor.[18]

His third play The Invisible Hand premiered at New York Theatre Workshop in December, 2014,[19] a production which invited comparison to the work of Shaw, Brecht, and Arthur Miller.[20] It would go on to win the Obie Award, the John Gassner Award, be nominated for multiple Lucille Lortel awards and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. In May 2016, the play premiered in London at The Tricycle Theatre and received nominations for the Evening Standard and Olivier Awards.[21]

In 2016, American Theatre magazine declared Akhtar the most produced playwright in the country.[22][23]

Akhtar's latest play Junk: The Golden Age of Debt premiered on Broadway at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, produced by Lincoln Center Theater, on November 2, 2017.[24] It was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play and was awarded the Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama.[25] In his final interview Bill Moyers referred to Junk as "not only history but prophecy. A Biblical-like account of who’s running America, and how." Moyers added: "Our times at last have found their voice, and it belongs to a Pakistani American: Ayad Akhtar."[26]

In 2017, Akhtar won the Steinberg Playwright Award.[27] In his acceptance speech at Lincoln Center Theater, later published in The New York Times, he explained why he believes the theater is only more important now than it ever has been:

"A living being before a living audience. Relationship unmediated by the contemporary disembodying screen. Not the appearance of a person, but the reality of one. Not a simulacrum of relationship, but a form of actual relationship.

The theater is an art form scaled to the human, and stubbornly so, relying on the absolute necessity of physical audience, a large part of why theater is so difficult to monetize. It only happens when and where it happens. Once it starts, you can’t stop it. It doesn’t exist to be paused or pulled out at the consumer’s whim. It can’t be copied and sold. In a world increasingly lost to virtuality and unreality — the theater points to an antidote.

A living actor before a living audience. The situation of all theater, a situation that can awaken in us a recollection of something more primordial, religious ritual — the site of our earliest collective negotiations with our tremendous vulnerability to existence. The act of gathering to witness the myths of our alleged origins enacted — this is the root of the theater’s timeless magic."[28]


Akhtar's second novel, Homeland Elegies, will be published in the fall of 2020 by Little, Brown and Company. According to the publisher's press release, the book is drawn from Akhtar's life as the son of Muslim immigrants, blending fact and fiction to tell a story of belonging and dispossession about the world that 9/11 made.[29]

List of worksEdit



  • 2020 Homeland Elegies. Little, Brown and Company
  • 2012 American Dervish. Little, Brown and Company[34]

Film and televisionEdit

Year Film Role Notes
2002 "Life Document 2: Identity" Ahmad Directed, wrote script and served as editor
2005 The War Within Hassan Co-wrote script
2006 2006 Independent Spirit Awards Himself Documentary
"Long After" Naseer Short
2008 "FCU: Fact Checkers Unit" Short
2011 Too Big to Fail Neel Kashkari TV film


  • 2019 Erwin Piscator Award[35]
  • 2017 Steinberg Playwright Award[36]
  • 2017 Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters


The Invisible HandEdit


American DervishEdit

The War WithinEdit


  1. ^ "2017 Literature Award Winners – American Academy of Arts and Letters". Retrieved October 7, 2019.
  2. ^ "Q&A: Ayhad Akhtar". The Economist. September 3, 2015. ISSN 0013-0613. Retrieved October 7, 2019.
  3. ^ Haun, Harry (July 17, 2014). "Ayad Akhtar Taps Into an Ancient Conflict in 'The Who and the What'". Retrieved May 2, 2016.
  4. ^ Sokolove, Michael (September 6, 2017). "Plunging His Pen Into the Dark Heart of 1980s Wall Street". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 20, 2019.
  5. ^ Wagner, Annie (October 19, 2005). "Annie Wagner Talks to Ayad Akhtar and Tom Glynn". The Stranger. Retrieved May 31, 2011.
  6. ^ ”An Interview with Ayad Akhtar; A Conversation Between Playwright Ayad Akhtar and Anita Montgomery” Archived May 3, 2015, at the Wayback Machine ACT Webpage
  7. ^ "'American Dervish' — By Ayad Akhtar — Review -". January 12, 2012. Archived from the original on January 12, 2012. Retrieved May 2, 2016.
  8. ^ Alter, Alexandra. "'Dervish' Whirls Into Publishing World". WSJ. Retrieved May 2, 2016.
  9. ^ "2013 Audie Awards® - APA". Retrieved October 8, 2019.
  10. ^ "Review: 'Disgraced' at American Theater Company". tribunedigital-chicagotribune. Retrieved May 2, 2016.
  11. ^ Jones, Chris (January 21, 2012). "Tolerance is no easy out in riveting 'Disgraced'". Chicago Tribune.
  12. ^ a b "The 2013 Pulitzer Prize Winners".
  13. ^ "Disgraced". Retrieved May 2, 2016.
  14. ^ "Disgraced @ Lyceum Theatre | Playbill". Playbill. Retrieved May 2, 2016.
  15. ^ a b Staff, Variety (April 28, 2015). "Tony Nominations 2015: Full List". Variety. Retrieved May 2, 2016.
  16. ^ "Production History". Retrieved May 2, 2016.
  17. ^ Goldmann, A. J. (June 15, 2018). "Ayad Akhtar Gets a European Welcome, With Conditions". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 8, 2019.
  18. ^ "NESTROYPREIS Der Wiener Theaterpreis - Die Gewinner 2018". Retrieved October 7, 2019.
  19. ^ "NYTW / The Invisible Hand". NYTW. Retrieved May 2, 2016.
  20. ^ "'The Invisible Hand' Theater Review: It's 'Margin Call' Set Inside a Pakistani Bunker". TheWrap. December 9, 2014. Retrieved October 7, 2019.
  21. ^ Bano, Tim (March 6, 2017). "Olivier Awards 2017: the nominations in full". The Stage. Retrieved October 8, 2019.
  22. ^ "The Top 10 Most-Produced Plays of the 2015–16 Season". AMERICAN THEATRE. September 16, 2015. Retrieved May 2, 2016.
  23. ^ "The Top 20 Most-Produced Playwrights of the 2015--16 Season". AMERICAN THEATRE. September 15, 2015. Retrieved May 2, 2016.
  24. ^ Stewart, James B. (November 23, 2017). "'Junk' Mines the Milken Era for Truths That Resonate Now". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 19, 2019.
  25. ^ Libraries, Columbia University (April 7, 2017). "2018 – Junk by Ayad Akhtar". Edward M. Kennedy. Retrieved October 7, 2019.
  26. ^ "Bill Moyers and 'Junk' Playwright Ayad Akhtar on How Wall Street Won". Retrieved October 7, 2019.
  27. ^ Chow, Andrew R. (September 27, 2017). "Ayad Akhtar and Lucas Hnath Win Steinberg Awards". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 7, 2019.
  28. ^ Akhtar, Ayad (December 29, 2017). "An Antidote to Digital Dehumanization? Live Theater". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 7, 2019.
  29. ^ "Akhtar's 'Homeland' Settles at LB". Retrieved October 7, 2019.
  30. ^ Akhtar, Ayad (November 30, 2017). Junk: A Play. Back Bay Books. ISBN 978-0-316-55072-7.
  31. ^ Akhtar, Ayad (August 25, 2015). The Invisible Hand. Back Bay Books. ISBN 978-0-316-32453-3.
  32. ^ Akhtar, Ayad (October 7, 2014). The Who & The What: A Play. Back Bay Books. ISBN 978-0-316-32449-6.
  33. ^ Akhtar, Ayad (September 10, 2013). Disgraced: A Play. Back Bay Books. ISBN 978-0-316-32446-5.
  34. ^ "Little, Brown and Company Fall '11/Winter '12" (PDF). Little, Brown and Company. May 10, 2011. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 29, 2011. Retrieved May 31, 2011.
  35. ^ "Piscator Award. The Lahr von Leitis Academy & Archive". Retrieved October 10, 2019.
  36. ^ Chow, Andrew (September 27, 2017). "Ayad Akhtar and Lucas Hnath Win Steinberg Awards". New York Times.
  37. ^ Paulson, Michael (May 1, 2018). "2018 Tony Nominations: 'Mean Girls' and 'SpongeBob' Lead the Way". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 1, 2018.
  38. ^ Deb, Sopan (February 22, 2018). "Ayad Akhtar Wins Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History". New York Times.
  39. ^ "OBIE Award Winners Announced". May 18, 2015. Retrieved May 1, 2016.
  40. ^ "AWARDS FOR 2014-2015". Retrieved May 2, 2016.
  41. ^ "The Invisible Hand - Lortel Archives". Retrieved May 2, 2016.
  42. ^ "OBIE Winners" Archived June 14, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
  43. ^ Gans, Andrew (May 13, 2013). Is Big Winner of 2012-13 Outer Critics Circle Awards "Pippin Is Big Winner of 2012-13 Outer Critics Circle Awards"[permanent dead link]. Playbill. Retrieved May 13, 2013.
  44. ^ Gans, Andrew (May 21, 2013). "Natasha, Vanya and Sonia, Closer Than Ever, The Piano Lesson and More Win Off Broadway Alliance Awards" Archived June 5, 2013, at the Wayback Machine. Playbill. Retrieved May 22, 2013.
  45. ^ "Best Fiction of 2012 | Kirkus Reviews". Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved May 2, 2016.
  46. ^ "The Globe's top 29 picks for international fiction of 2012". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved May 2, 2016.
  47. ^ "Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, December 28, 2012". Retrieved May 2, 2016.
  48. ^ Noble, Barnes &. "O, The Oprah Magazine's Best Books of 2012, Best Books of the Year 2012, Books". Barnes & Noble. Retrieved May 2, 2016.
  49. ^ King, Susan (November 30, 2005). "Getting into the Spirit of awards season". Los Angeles Times. p. E3.

External linksEdit