Terrence McNally is selected for Steinbeck Award

May 12, 1993|By Newsday

Playwright Terrence McNally has been chosen winner of the John Steinbeck Award, the annual prize awarded to writers living on the east end of New York's Long Island.

The award was presented last week by Elaine Steinbeck, the widow of the Nobel Prize-winning author.

She said this year's prize to Mr. McNally was special because the playwright was once a virtual member of the Steinbeck family.

In the early 1960s "he went on a 10-month trip with John and me and our two sons," she said.

Mr. McNally tutored the two teen-agers as the family traveled from Greece to England.

Mr. McNally, who wrote the hit plays "Kiss of the Spider Woman," "Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune" and "The Lisbon pTC Traviata," said the tutor assignment had been his first job.

"It was a dream job for an English major, my first job," he recalled. "It was kind of a fluke that I got the job, but I became a part of the family."

"The director Elia Kazan recommended him when John said we would take the boys to Europe and we needed a young tutor," Mrs. Steinbeck said. "He wanted a young man the boys would learn more from than an older, traditional tutor. He wanted it to be fun for all of us."

"I think, 'what would John have thought of this event? Not much,' " said Mr. McNally of the award presentation. "Big parties scared the hell out of him.

"But anything that makes it easier for writers to get started, he supported."

He said that in a small Italian village, Mr. Steinbeck had taught him the function of a writer: to reach out with one's work to touch common people.

During his career Mr. McNally has won two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Rockefeller grant and a citation from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

But of those accolades, he said, the award Mrs. Steinbeck gave to him "was the most personal."

Previous winners of the Steinbeck Award include Kurt Vonnegut Jr. and E. L. Doctorow.

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