Pulitzer Prize-winning UT alum uses writing as a force for change

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Photo Credit: Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and screenwriter Robert Schenkkan said he depends on the pen when the sword fails, and called on writers to use their words as a force for change. 

Schenkkan touched on issues relating to freedom of press, refugees and climate change, and said he felt it was his responsibility to make them known in a lecture hosted by Plan II Thursday.  

“I have never felt the urgency … that I feel today,” Schenkkan said. “As an artist, I had to act. I had to act now.”

Schenkkan spoke on how historical social issues have influenced his work, including his Tony award-winning play, “All The Way” about former President Lyndon B. Johnson, and “The Kentucky Cycle,” which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992.

Schenkkan said he has drawn inspiration from previous authors who wrote about social change, including Arthur Miller. 

“I, too, have mined the past to illuminate the present,” Schenkkan said.

Mary Dillman, Plan II alumni liaison and programs coordinator, said Schenkkan was chosen as speaker for the Glickman Lectureship in part because of the success of “All the Way,” which was later adapted into an HBO movie starring actor Bryan Cranston.

Also a three-time Emmy-nominated writer and Writers Guild of America Award recipient, Schenkkan was a screenwriter for the Oscar-nominated film “Hacksaw Ridge” and is an alumnus of UT’s Plan II program.

“It’s a great asset to the University to have alumni who are as talented and accomplished as Robert Schenkkan,” said Matthew Valentine, Plan II lecturer. 

During his time at UT, Schenkkan also visited Valentine’s class, a Plan II seminar on writing narratives, to pass on guidance for creating award-winning literature to a new generation of writers. 

Student writers such as Kate Coleman, editor-in-chief of the Plan II literary journal, The Nocturnal, attended the lecture for advice in their field. Coleman, a Plan II senior, attended a previous Glickman lecture and said it was a good experience.

“I just realized it was such a good opportunity,” Coleman said. “It can be really helpful to hear these writers talk about their lives and their career paths.”

Schenkkan’s most recent play, titled “Building the Wall,” was inspired by current political and social tensions and is set to premiere this month.

“With language, we can change our story,” Schenkkan said. “If we are not paying attention, the unimaginable can become the inevitable.”