Nilo Cruz, intense 44-year old Cuban playwright, says he was named after the Nile River. He is the first Hispanic playwright to win a Pulitzer prize (April, 2003, for Anna in the Tropics.)  Two days prior, he was awarded the American Theater Critic Assocation's Steinberg Award for Best New Play.
When I spoke with him last week, he was preparing to go into rehearsal at Miami's Coconut Grove Playhouse for Anna which he is directing.

Cruz was born in 1960 in Matanzas, a province next to Havana. He came to Miami with his mother in 1970.  He says his father was a political prisoner for trying to leave Cuba  "We were a marked family for being anti-revolutionary." After his father died in 1964, his two sisters married and remained in Cuba. Reflecting his background, Cruz said he wrote his first play at 28, Grassiti, about two orphan siblings trying to make ends meet in an urban setting. It incorporated the missing father and was set in New York and Los Angeles.  Nilo's newest play is Beauty of the Father, which was produced at Seattle Rep in May 2004.

Cruz cites the McCarter Theater in Princeton, the Public Theater in NY, and South Coast Rep in Costa Mesa, California, as venues he considers artistic homes. He said: "That's unfortunate, because so many regional theaters have been supportive of my work."

As for inspirations for his writing he said, "I love Chekhov and (Tennessee) Williams, but I also have an affinity with (Gabriel Garcia) Lorca."
I met Nilo in June of 2003 at an ATCA Conference in St. Paul, Minnesota where he was being interviewed on stage by Christine Dolan of The Miami Herald. He spoke then of always being drawn to poetry and books and volunteering at a library, so he could be surrounded by books. Cruz studied at Miami-Dade Community College and graduated from Brown University, which he attended on a scholarship. Following graduation, he moved to New York, where he lived for two years in a sound booth (which he decorated) at New Dramatists. In its prior incarnation, it was an old church. Nilo said: "Spirituality and tranquility (returned) on week-ends."
Two of his mentors were Maria Irene Fornes and Paula Vogel. Of Fornes he said, "Although she writes in English, her sensibility is Hispanic and Cuban."

Added Cruz, "I don't write plays for Latinos, I just write plays. I write for myself .... every time I write a play I become a better person ... I try to capture the emotional life in my plays. I'm interested in capturing the rhythms rather than (the) accents."


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Key Subjects: 
Nilo Cruz, Anna in the Tropics, Maria Irene Fornes, Cuba, Grassiti
Rita Faye Smith
September 2004
The Post-Pulitzer Life of Nilo Cruz