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Who is Alfred Uhry?

Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

Alfred Uhry is an American playwright and screenwriter, born in 1936. He is best known for his magnum opus, Driving Miss Daisy, part of his Atlanta Trilogy. In 2006 he earned the distinction of being the first writer ever to win a Pulitzer Prize, a Tony Award, and an Academy Award for his dramatic works.

He spent his first years in Atlanta, Georgia, and this upbringing would influence his later style and give his work a sense of place. He attended the Druid Hills High School, and then Brown University, where he received a degree in both English and drama. Alfred Uhry then went to New York City, and began teaching English at the Calhoun School.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

For many years, Alfred Uhry struggled in the theatre, working as a librettist and lyricist on Broadway. His early works were all commercial and critical failures, and included works such as America’s Sweetheart and Here’s Where I Belong. Finally, in 1975, he hit the mark with The Robber Bridegroom, a collaboration with Robert Waldman. The Robber Bridegroom was a substantial success, and Alfred Uhry received a Tony nomination for the piece, although ultimately he did not win. Nonetheless, this set his path as a serious Broadway playwright.

Uhry continued to work in the theatre for the next decade, but it wasn’t until 1987 that he had his next real success. Driving Miss Daisy opened at the Studio Theatre, and was an immediate critical success. Initially, the play seemed to be a fairly non-serious work, and many were skeptical of its worth. The central premise of an aging Jewish woman in the South and her black chauffeur seemed to many to be fairly trite, if not actively offensive in its portrayal of race relations. Ultimately, however, the consensus was that the play addressed the issues with heart and offered a unique perspective, while bringing to the fore of a play character archetypes that normally would be relegated to a supporting cast.

Morgan Freeman starred opposite Dana Ivey in the original production of Driving Miss Daisy, and the play ultimately earned Alfred Uhry a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Two years later, Uhry adapted the script into a screenplay, starring Morgan Freeman opposite Jessica Tandy, and the film won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1989, and Uhry won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay.

Driving Miss Daisy was the first of the Atlanta Trilogy, rounded out by The Last Night of Ballyhoo in 1997, and Parade in 1998. The plays all draw from the personal experiences of Alfred Uhry, who was himself a Jew growing up in the South. The Last Night of Ballyhoo has to do with the abandonment of Jewish heritage while adapting to life in America, while Parade looks at the real-life story of a Jewish factory worker who was falsely convicted of murdering a girl in Atlanta in 1913 and spent 70 years in prison. The Last Night of Ballyhoo won the Tony Award for Best Play, while Parade won the Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical.

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