Teaching dramatic writing isn’t like instructing someone how to ride a bicycle or mend a broken pipe. Writing is unique and idiosyncratic, a deeply personal form of communication. It’s informed by not only the past and present, but by one’s identity, imagination, values, aesthetics, politics, sense of humor, appreciation of tragedy. At the same time, good writing demands not just aptitude; it requires intense discipline, resilience, openness, and patience. It takes bravery, a clear eye, and heart. As a teacher, I try to encourage personal expression while reinforcing the discipline of craft. I help students identify and clarify their voice and the story they’re trying to tell. At the same time, I teach them the basic tools of dramatic writing and how to use (or perhaps even subvert) them: structure, plot, character, action. How do you shape a play, anyway? Or a screenplay? How do you maximize the potential of the stage or screen? Most of all, I try to empower all my students to open up to the vast creative potential within them, and to help them find its best expression.
As a playwright, I wrote the stage adaptation of Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club (Dramatists Play Service), The Arrangement, Where It Came From, Open Spaces, and the book to the musicals Merlin's Apprentice (with Stephen Cole & Matthew Ward) and Allison Under the Stars (with Zina Goldrich and Marcie Heisler). My one-acts include Memento Mori (Smith & Krauss), Pandora, Dreamtime for Alice (Farrar Strauss, Dramatists Play Service), Rapid Eye Movement, Seventh Word Four Syllables, and Death and the Maiden. My one-act play Guts was produced as an independent film, which aired on PBS. My plays have been produced at NY’s Ensemble Studio Theatre, Pan Asian Repertory and Ohio Theatre, and nationally, at the Long Wharf Theatre, LA’s East/West Players and Stella Adler, Palo Alto’s TheatreWorks, Denver’s Walden Family Playhouse, Honolulu’s Kumu Kahua Playhouse, and others. I attended the 2000 Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference and won a Drama Logue Award for Outstanding New Play for Open Spaces.
My nonfiction book Flow: the Cultural Story of Menstruation, co-written with graphic designer Elissa Stein, was published by St. Martins Griffin in November 2009. In 2010, two graphic novels that I wrote with my partner, playwright Laurence Klavan, were published by First Second Books: City of Spies (artwork by Pascal Dizin) was named One of the Best Books of the Year for Children by Scripps Howard News Service; and Brain Camp (artwork by Faith Erin Hicks) was named One of the Best Graphic Novels for Teens by the American Library Association.
I’ve also written extensively for television. I was nominated five times for the Emmy and four times for the Writers Guild award for best writing, all in the children’s category. In adult nonfiction, I won a WGA award in 1996 for Best Documentary for PBS’ Paving the Way. Other documentaries include Icebound, AMC’s Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust, WLIW’s Through My Eyes, and the 3-part PBS series, The Meaning of Food.
I live in New York City and am a member of the Writers Guild of America East, the Writers Guild of Canada, ASCAP, UAW 2322, and Ensemble Studio Theatre.