John Lahr and August Wilson

A Defining Moment
An email conversation about the news of the day.
Sept. 13 2001 9:23 PM

John Lahr and August Wilson


Dear John,


By all consensus America is no longer the same nation that it was prior to the events of Monday, September 11, 2001. How it had changed we don't know. Whether, as you hope, it reawakens us to our historical purpose and we continue to aspire to the high ideals of the founding fathers and achieve the gratitude in the face of loss that Andre Dubus speaks of, whether we have learned anything useful from this challenge to the sense of ourselves as an invulnerable and untouchable superpower, will be determined by our conduct in the days ahead. America has always responded with great courage in the face of adversity. Whether we acquire a new sense of morality to guide our technology, whether we shoulder the grave responsibility to the annals of truth and the rigorous vigilance it demands, whether we achieve the cultural or spiritual maturity necessary to turn this evil and despicable act into a force for good, I don't know. I know that fate has decreed this defining moment to be in our hands and what we make of it will emerge in a baptismal spray that names and defines the kind of world my four-year-old daughter, given her three-score-and-ten, will live in for the next 66 years. Freedom from political tyranny and religious oppression are among the great gifts this country gives to all its citizens. If we add to that our pioneering, trailblazing spirit, that aspect of the American character that forges the new, if we don't squander our inheritance, that faith in man's ability to render out of his experience an indelible purpose blazoned with the high ideals of human conduct, then I think we can conquer any thing, person, or idea that would deny us the highest possibility of human life.

Time will tell.

The best of everything,


John Lahr is senior drama critic forThe New Yorkerand author of 18 books. He recently co-authored, with Elaine Stritch, the play Elaine Stritch at Liberty, which will premier at the Public Theater in New York City in October. August Wilson is the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright who's best known for his 20th-century, decade-by-decade cycle of plays.



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