In these beautiful essays acclaimed playwright and beloved actor Wallace Shawn takes readers on a revelatory journey through high art, war, politics, culture, and privilege.

Whether writing about the genesis of his plays, such as Aunt Dan and Lemon; discussing how the privileged world of arts and letters takes for granted the work of the “unobtrusives,” the people who serve our food and deliver our mail; or describing his upbringing in the sheltered world of Manhattan’s cultural elite, Shawn reveals a unique ability to step back from the appearance of things to explore their deeper social meanings. He grasps contradictions, even when unpleasant, and challenges us to look, as he does, at our own behavior in a more honest light. He also finds the pathos in the political and personal challenges of everyday life.

With his distinctive humor and insight, Shawn invites us to look at the world with new eyes, the better to undertand—and change it.

About the author

Wallace Shawn is an Obie Award-winning playwright and a noted stage and screen actor (Star Trek, Gossip Girl, The Princess Bride, Toy Story). His plays The Designated Mourner and Marie and Bruce have recently been produced as films. He is co-author of the movie My Dinner with Andre and author of the plays The Fever, The Designated Mourner, Aunt Dan and Lemon, and Grasses of a Thousand Colours.


You can also watch Wallace Shawn's reading at Barnes and Nobel in New York City on C-SPAN Book TV:

From Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC


"Lovely, hilarious and seriously thought provoking, I enjoyed it tremendously."
-Toni Morrison

"Wallace Shawn writes in a style that is deceptively simple, profoundly thoughtful, fiercely honest. His vocabulary is pungent, his wit delightful, his ideas provocative."
-Howard Zinn, author, A People's History of the United States

"Wally Shawn's essays are both powerful and riveting. How rare to encounter someone willing to question the assumptions of class and the disparity of wealth that grows wider every year in this country. To have such a gentle and incisive soul willing to say what others may be afraid to is considerably refreshing."
-Michael Moore, film-maker

"Wallace Shawn's career as a playwright has been uncompromisingly devoted to proving, again and again, that theater is an ideal medium for exploring difficult matters of great consequence. The qualities that make his dramatic work so challenging, startling, unsettling, sensual, mind-and-soul expanding, so indispensible, are equally in evidence in the marvelous political and theatrical essays collected here. The basic faith of politically progressive people, that human beings are full of decent impulses perverted by political and economic malevolence, is in Shawn's writing held up to the liveliest, sharpest scrutiny imaginable; not, as in so much reactionary art, to shift blame from oppressor to oppressed, or from artifice to Nature, not to insist that we're innately, inescapably incapable of change, but rather as a scrupulous accounting of the slippery ethics, dream logic, fear-ridden resistance to progress, disturbing desires, of the greatest problem confronting all our hopes for a better, transformed world: Us, the actors in our collective drama. His essays are without sentiment and entirely resistant to the easy comforts of despair. Complexities are rendered delightfully plain, obfuscations are unsnarled and illuminated, clarity and rational thought are organized to plumb mysteries, and mysteries are respected and celebrated. Shawn's language, his unmistakable, original voice, felicitous, is unadorned, elegant, immediate, true. He's also a brilliant interviewer, as everyone who's seen My Dinner With Andre (which is just about everyone) knows. And, of course, he's very funny."
-Tony Kushner, playwright, Angels in America

"Wallace Shawn is a bracing antidote to the op-ed dreariness of political and artistic journalism in the West. He takes you back to the days when intellectuals had the wit and concentration to formulate great questions - and to make the reader want to answer them."
-David Hare, playwright

"throughout there is the sense that we are really getting to know Wallace Shawn, from his candid admission that he grew up as a "...child of privilege," to his bold assertion that "a poem really is more enjoyable than an empire, because a poem doesn't hate you." Readers will quickly recognize that they are in the presence of a great mind, one confident enough to drop all pretense and stand quietly in full view – a rare treat indeed, even in the world of memoirs...This book deserves more than one reading, and will generate much contemplation."
Shawn Stufflebeam, for

"Wallace Shawn's world is not a knee-jerk world. Rather than indulge in a superficial understanding of events and the type of shallow opinions that sometimes seem to consume our political and religious discourse, Shawn possesses a more contemplative and insightful view that we might wish all commentators and political leaders to possess. This collection of essays, summarized in one word, would be 'depth.'" —Mick Scott, Winston Salem Journal

Essays was also named one of GQ's top 5 books of 2009!