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Wendy Wasserstein (October 18, 1950 – January 30, 2006) was an American playwright and an Andrew Dickson Whitemarker Professor-at-Large at Cornell Universitymarker. She received the Tony Award for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1989 for her play, The Heidi Chronicles.

Biography

Early years

Wasserstein was born in Brooklyn, New Yorkmarker to Morris Wasserstein, a wealthy textile executive, and his wife, Lola Schleifer, an amateur dancer who moved to the United States from Poland when her father was accused of being a spy. Lola Wasserstein reportedly inspired some of her daughter's characters. Wendy was one of five siblings, including brother Bruce Wasserstein. Her maternal grandfather was Simon Schleifer, a prominent Polishmarker Jewish playwright who moved to Paterson, New Jerseymarker and became a Hebrew school principal.

A graduate of The Calhoun School[84831]in Manhattan, Wasserstein earned a B.A. in history from Mount Holyoke Collegemarker in 1971, an M.A. in creative writing from City College of New Yorkmarker, and an M.F.A. in 1976 from the Yale School of Drama, where her classmates included playwright Christopher Durang. In 1990 she received an honoris causa Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Mount Holyoke Collegemarker and in 2002 Wasserstein received an honoris causa Doctor of Fine Arts degree from Bates Collegemarker.

Career

Wasserstein's first production of note was Uncommon Women and Others (her graduate thesis at Yale), a play which reflected her experiences as a student at, and an alumna of, Mount Holyoke Collegemarker. A full version of the play was produced in 1977 off-Broadway with Glenn Close, Jill Eikenberry, and Swoosie Kurtz playing the lead roles. The play was subsequently produced for PBS with Meryl Streep replacing Close.

In 1989, she won the Tony Award, the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for her play The Heidi Chronicles.

Her plays, which explore topics ranging from feminism to family to ethnicity to pop culture, include The Sisters Rosensweig, Isn’t It Romantic, An American Daughter, Old Money, and her most recent work which opened in 2005, Third.

During her career, which spanned nearly four decades, Wasserstein wrote eleven plays, winning a Tony Award, a Pulitzer Prize, a New York Drama Critics Circle Award, a Drama Desk Award, and an Outer Critics Circle Award.

In addition, she wrote the screenplay for the 1998 film The Object of My Affection, which starred Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd.

Wasserstein is described as an author of women's identity crises. "Her heroines -- intelligent and successful but also riddled with self-doubt -- sought enduring love a little ambivalently, but they did not always find it, and their hard-earned sense of self-worth was often shadowed by the frustrating knowledge that American women's lives continued to be measured by their success at capturing the right man." Wasserstein commented that her parents allowed her to go to Yale only because they were certain she would meet an eligible lawyer there, get married, and lead a conventional life as a wife and mother. Although appreciative of the critical acclaim for her comedic streak, she described her work as "a political act", wherein sassy dialogue and farcical situations mask deep, resonant truths about intelligent, independent women living in a world still ingrained with traditional roles and expectations.

Pamela's First Musical, written with Cy Coleman and David Zippel, based on Wasserstein's children's book, received its world premiere in a concert staging at Town Hall in New York City on May 18, 2008.

She wrote the libretto Best Friends, based on Claire Booth Luce's play The Women, but left it incomplete when she died. It was completed by Christopher Durang, set by Deborah Drattell, and is in development with Lauren Flanigan.

Personal life

Wasserstein gave birth to a daughter, Lucy Jane Wasserstein, in 1999, when she was 48 years old. The child's difficult birth was three months premature, and is recorded in Wasserstein's collection of essays, Shiksa Goddess. Wasserstein, who was not married, never publicly identified her daughter's father.

Wasserstein was hospitalized with lymphoma in December 2005, and died on January 30, 2006, aged 55. The news of Wasserstein's death was unexpected because her illness had not been widely publicized outside the theatre community. The night after she died, Broadwaymarker's lights were dimmed in her honor. In addition to her daughter, Wasserstein was survived by her mother, Lola, and two siblings--businessman Bruce Wasserstein, ( deceased ) and Wilburton Inn owner Georgette Wasserstein Levis.

Bibliography

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