Tina Howe, the celebrated playwright responsible for the Tony nominated Coastal Disturbances and Pulitzer finalists Pride's Crossing and Painting Churches, has died. News of her passing was confirmed by her longtime agent, Patrick Herold. Ms. Howe was 85.
Born into a literary family, Ms. Howe's grandfather was Mark Antony De Wolfe Howe, a prolific writer who won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 1925. Language was given significant power in her family, with Ms. Howe later recalling her father travelling to visit her in the hospital during a bout of hepatitis to read her James Joyce's Ulysses to strengthen her spirit.
After graduating from Sarah Lawrence College in 1959, Ms. Howe travelled to France to study philosophy at Sorbonne University, where a chance encounter with Eugène Ionesco’s Le Cantatrice Chauve at the Théâtre de la Huchette changed her life, positioning her toward drama rather than literature.
Known for her ability to enfold the art world into her work, Ms. Howe's plays are often considered extensions of the Absurdism tradition, with emotions heightened in the face of increasingly improbable scenarios through which her quirky cast of characters must navigate.
In all, Ms. Howe wrote 14 full-length plays, including Closing Time, The Nest, Birth and After Birth, Museum, The Art of Dining, Painting Churches, Coastal Disturbances, Approaching Zanzibar, One Shoe Off, East of the Sun and West of the Moon, Pride's Crossing, Rembrandt's Gift, Chasing Manet, and Cheri. Ever aware of Ionesco's influence on her life, she translated two of his works, The Bald Soprano and The Lesson, into English in 2004.
Both Painting Churches and Pride's Crossing were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, with Coastal Disturbances netting a Tony nomination. Independent of any specific work, Ms. Howe was a Guggenheim Fellow; a recipient of the Obie Award for Distinguished Playwriting, the Rockefeller Grant for Distinguished Playwriting, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, and the PEN/Laura Pels Theater Award for Master American Dramatist, amongst other titles.
In addition to her work as a playwright, Ms. Howe taught at New York University, UCLA, Columbia University, and Carnegie Mellon, with Hunter College serving as her academic home from 2010 to 2015, where she headed the two-year MFA playwriting program as a Visiting Professor of Playwriting and Playwright in Residence.
Ms. Howe is survived by her two children, Dara and Eben, as well as three grandchildren. Information on a public memorial is forthcoming.