When the play you write as a college senior wins an Obie, what do you do for an encore? In your case a whole lot. That undergraduate effort, which portrayed clashes between established Asian Americans and newcomers, began your career-long exploration of ethnicity and identity and the misunderstandings, some powerful and some poignant, that result when cultures collide. It is a career of enormous range. You have worked with Philip Glass and with Disney. You have written for stage, screen, television, and dance, and are the most produced living opera librettist. M. Butterfly, a deconstruction of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, exploded Western stereotypes of Asians, was the first play by an Asian American to appear on Broadway, has been staged in more than four dozen countries, and has been made into a movie. It also made you the first Asian American to win a Tony Award for Best Play. You went on to co-write the book for Aida, with music by Elton John and Tim Rice, and reworked for modern sensibilities Rodgers and Hammerstein’s creaky Flower Drum Song. It all began, you have said, by taking your grandmother’s oral history when you were ten. That curiosity, that initiative, that interest in the fluidity of identity continue to enlighten through your art cultures much in need of learning how to meaningfully engage.
I hereby declare you recipient of the honorary degree Doctor of Letters, entitled to all the rights, honors, and privileges appertaining thereto.
June 5, 2016