1. Tony Kushner talks to Terry Gross about the 16th president and writing the screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-nominated film, ‘Lincoln’:

    I think that what Lincoln was doing at the end of war was a very, very smart thing. And it is maybe one of the great tragedies of American history that people didn’t take him literally after he was murdered. The inability to forgive and to reconcile with the South in a really decent and humane way, without any question, was one of the causes of the kind of resentment and perpetuation of alienation and bitterness that led to the quote-unquote ‘noble cause,’ and the rise of the Klan and Southern self-protection societies.

    The abuse of the South after they were defeated was a catastrophe, and helped lead to just unimaginable, untellable human suffering. So had Lincoln not been murdered, and had he really been able to guide Reconstruction, I think there’s a good reason to believe that he would have acted on those principles, because he meant them. We know that he meant them literally, because he told [Ulysses S.] Grant to behave accordingly.

  2. Fresh Air

    Interviews

    Tony Kushner

    Lincoln

    Steven Spielberg

    Civil War

  1. In honor of the approaching Academy Awards and in addition to the Wes Anderson interview, we’ll also be airing the Tony Kushner interview today. He’s up for Lincoln, which is a good excuse to share Lincoln’s calling card. He is ready to “dispense law, make jokes, split rails and perform other matters in a small way.”
laphamsquarterly:


“I have not inquired at what period of time the use of intoxicating liquors commenced, nor is it important to know. It is sufficient that to all of us who now inhabit the world, the practice of drinking them is just as old as the world itself—that is, we have seen the one just as long as we have seen the other.”

Don’t expect Abraham Lincoln to hand you his business card in a tavern.
View in High-Res

    In honor of the approaching Academy Awards and in addition to the Wes Anderson interview, we’ll also be airing the Tony Kushner interview today. He’s up for Lincoln, which is a good excuse to share Lincoln’s calling card. He is ready to “dispense law, make jokes, split rails and perform other matters in a small way.”

    laphamsquarterly:

    I have not inquired at what period of time the use of intoxicating liquors commenced, nor is it important to know. It is sufficient that to all of us who now inhabit the world, the practice of drinking them is just as old as the world itself—that is, we have seen the one just as long as we have seen the other.”

    Don’t expect Abraham Lincoln to hand you his business card in a tavern.

  2. Lapham's Quarterly

    Lincoln

    Tony Kushner

  1. Tony Kushner on Mary Todd Lincoln’s contribution to the White House image:
She apparently sold Lincoln’s annual letter to Congress — which is what the State of the Union Address used to be — to a newspaper to raise money to buy stuff for the White House. And that of course was a huge transgression, and the House seriously thought of calling her up and investigating her. Lincoln stopped that.
The thing that I think people don’t understand about Mary, or don’t give her credit for, is that when they came to the White House, it was in an absolute shambles — as was the country. Obviously, it was falling apart in 1861. And I think because she came from a political family and had a very keen sense of political theater, she knew that the backdrop for the Lincoln administration had to be splendid and suggest power and coherence, since the U.S. at that moment was anything but coherent. It was disintegrating.
And she did it. When you look at the engravings from the time, people were clearly just blown away at how beautiful the place was. And she deserves an enormous amount of credit for doing that with almost no budget.
(Photo credit: Nicholas H. Shepherd)

    Tony Kushner on Mary Todd Lincoln’s contribution to the White House image:

    She apparently sold Lincoln’s annual letter to Congress — which is what the State of the Union Address used to be — to a newspaper to raise money to buy stuff for the White House. And that of course was a huge transgression, and the House seriously thought of calling her up and investigating her. Lincoln stopped that.

    The thing that I think people don’t understand about Mary, or don’t give her credit for, is that when they came to the White House, it was in an absolute shambles — as was the country. Obviously, it was falling apart in 1861. And I think because she came from a political family and had a very keen sense of political theater, she knew that the backdrop for the Lincoln administration had to be splendid and suggest power and coherence, since the U.S. at that moment was anything but coherent. It was disintegrating.

    And she did it. When you look at the engravings from the time, people were clearly just blown away at how beautiful the place was. And she deserves an enormous amount of credit for doing that with almost no budget.

    (Photo credit: Nicholas H. Shepherd)

  2. Tony Kushner

    Mary Todd Lincoln

    White House

    Fresh Air

  1. Although there are no interpretations of Lincoln that say that he was a bad person, or a person who at one point loved slavery and changed his mind — [interpretations] that make any sense to me and that I think are in any way credible — there are certainly various versions of Lincoln and aspects of Lincoln. Like for instance his melancholy (which I don’t think he was) that are legitimate readings of him, and everybody has to pick their own. … Many people who knew him, including most of his closest friends, talk about how isolated and lonely and strange he was.

    And I would imagine Shakespeare and Mozart and Albert Einstein were also very strange. I think it must be very hard to have a cognitive process that really only in some ways resembles the cognitive processes of most of your fellow human beings. And the ability to see things that no one else can see, on one level, is a blessing — it’s certainly a blessing for the rest of us when something is made of it — but it also must be a kind of curse, because it seals you up in a world that only you can see.

    I mean, he was famously a joker, and a person who told stories, and a person who laughed and talked about how he had to laugh. He loved Shakespeare, and he loved Robert Burns, who were both writers who combine real heartbreak and tragedy with incredible humor and wit. And Lincoln said, ‘I couldn’t survive what I’m going through if I couldn’t laugh.’

    I don’t think he was a depressed person. I think he was a man with an enormous capacity for grief that didn’t deprive him of the ability to act. And he felt no need to hide the fact that he was grieving — and in fact saw, as the president of the United States, a duty to talk to the country about its grief during a time when we now think as many as 800,000 men in a country of 30 million died in combat in a four-year period.

    — Tony Kushner on the many interpretations of Abraham Lincoln

  2. Tony Kushner

    Lincoln

    Fresh Air

  1. Tony Kushner on Abraham Lincoln’s political genius:

The man was just kind of a miracle worker in terms of finessing almost impossible circumstances and getting a result that he felt that he needed. It was a combination of cunning [and] ruthlessness –- he was sometimes very hard on his friends and asked them to make terrible sacrifices of their own ambitions.

And you can listen to an interview with historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of “Team of Rivals,” which was a major source for Kushner while writing the screenplay for the new Steven Spielberg film “Lincoln.”
(Photo credit: Joan Marcus-Hores/Dreamworks Pictures and 20th Century Fox)

    Tony Kushner on Abraham Lincoln’s political genius:

    The man was just kind of a miracle worker in terms of finessing almost impossible circumstances and getting a result that he felt that he needed. It was a combination of cunning [and] ruthlessness –- he was sometimes very hard on his friends and asked them to make terrible sacrifices of their own ambitions.

    And you can listen to an interview with historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of “Team of Rivals,” which was a major source for Kushner while writing the screenplay for the new Steven Spielberg film “Lincoln.”

    (Photo credit: Joan Marcus-Hores/Dreamworks Pictures and 20th Century Fox)

  2. Tony Kushner

    Abraham Lincoln

    Fresh Air

  1. There is probably no politican of any competence whatsoever who isn’t good at that because that’s in fact what politics is. It’s not about purity. It’s about compromise and strategy and making things actually happen in real time on this earth as opposed to a metaphysical realm.

    — Tony Kushner on Lincoln’s political savvy and what it takes to be a good politician

  2. Tony Kushner

    Fresh Air

    politics

  1. On tap for today: Tony Kushner, who wrote the screenplay for the new Steven Spielberg film, “Lincoln.” Kushner won a Pulitzer in 1993 for his play “Angels in America.” 
We’ll also hear from Doris Kearns Goodwin, whose biography “Team of Rivals” was the basis for the movie.
(Illustration by Ricardo Martinez as seen in The New Yorker)

    On tap for today: Tony Kushner, who wrote the screenplay for the new Steven Spielberg film, “Lincoln.” Kushner won a Pulitzer in 1993 for his play “Angels in America.” 

    We’ll also hear from Doris Kearns Goodwin, whose biography “Team of Rivals” was the basis for the movie.

    (Illustration by Ricardo Martinez as seen in The New Yorker)

  2. Lincoln

    Tony Kushner

    Fresh Air