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Hoffman, William M. (b. 1939)  
 
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Playwright, librettist, and educator William M. Hoffman is best known for his ground-breaking, critically acclaimed play As Is, one of the first theatrical works to focus on the AIDS epidemic.

Skillfully mingling humor, indignation, and pathos, As Is tells its central story about a man's personal struggle with AIDS, while also denouncing mainstream society for its silence about, and perceived indifference to, the enormity of the AIDS crisis.

Sponsor Message.

The play opened in a New York off-Broadway production in March 1985 (followed a month later by Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart, another enraged chronicle of the early years of the AIDS epidemic), and due to its critical and commercial success was transferred to an award-winning Broadway production two months later.

Early Life and Career

William M. Hoffman was born in New York City on April 12, 1939 of Eastern European immigrants. While neither of his parents had a formal education, Hoffman has explained in interviews, "learning was encouraged."

He attended the City College of New York, studying English and Latin. After graduating with honors in 1960, Hoffman went to work for the book publishing company Hill and Wang. As an editor there he helped promote the careers of several prominent gay and lesbian playwrights, including Joe Orton, Robert Patrick, Jane Chambers, Tom Eyen, and Lanford Wilson, by featuring their works in the New American Plays series and the pioneering anthology Gay Plays: The First Collection (1979).

In the early 1960s Hoffman also met and fell in love with the composer John Corigliano. Sometime after the two men began living together, however, Hoffman was introduced to the playwright Lanford Wilson at a party, and shortly thereafter the two men entered into a relationship. Hoffman and Corigliano subsequently broke up, although they remained friendly.

After meeting Wilson, Hoffman embarked on writing a series of short, experimental plays. The first of which, Thank You, Miss Victoria (1965), began as a short story, told entirely in dialogue, which Wilson convinced Hoffman was really a play.

The work concerns Harry Judson, an indolent, self-indulgent young man who, simply to amuse himself, phones a dominatrix in answer to her advertisement in a magazine seeking a male "slave." During the course of their conversation, of which the audience hears only the man's side, Harry is led on a discovery of his true and essential self.

Other early works by Hoffman include, Good Night, I Love You (1966); Saturday Night at the Movies (1966); Spring Play (1967); Three Masked Dances (1967); Incantation (1967); and Uptight (1968).

The 1970s were a rewarding, productive period for Hoffman; he received a series of grants and fellowships that allowed him to concentrate further on his writing. Hoffman earned a MacDowell Colony Fellowship in 1971; a Colorado Council on the Arts and Humanities grant, a Carnegie Fund grant, and a PEN grant in 1972; a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1974; and grants from the National Endowment of the Arts in 1975 and 1976.

Hoffman had a number of plays produced, including A Quick Nut Bread to Make Your Mouth Water (1970), which had a structure based on a recipe found in a box of flour; Luna (1970); From Fool to Hanged Man (1972); The Children's Crusade (1972); and Gilles de Rais (1975), about the notorious fifteenth-century French nobleman and convicted mass murderer.

Hoffman also wrote several teleplays for the CBS television network, including Notes from the New World: Louis Moreau Gottschalk, with Roger Englander, which aired in 1976; The Last Days of Stephen Foster, which aired in 1977; and Whistler: Five Portraits, which aired in 1978.

He co-wrote, with Anthony Holland, the plays Cornbury: The Queen's Governor (1977) and Shoe Palace Murray (1978).

Cornbury is a satirical meditation on Edward Hyde, Lord Cornbury, the English governor, from 1702 to 1708, of what is now New York and New Jersey, who is remembered primarily for his rumored habit of cross dressing while in office. A purported portrait of Lord Cornbury, which hangs in the New-York Historical Society, depicts a man with a pronounced five o'clock shadow, in provocative contrast to his long white gloves and extravagant blue gown.

According to Hoffman, the play was originally conceived as an ironic retort to the pageantry surrounding the United State's bicentennial celebrations in 1976, as well as an attempt to add a flamboyant new figure to the gallery of political figures in the traditional American history books.

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