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Ayad Akhtar’s ‘Disgraced,’ first seen in Chicago, wins Pulitzer Prize

'Disgraced' American Theater Company  features Benim Foster AlanArenas Usman Ally Lee Stark.

"Disgraced" at American Theater Company features Benim Foster, Alana Arenas, Usman Ally and Lee Stark.

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Updated: May 17, 2013 6:34AM

Ayad Akhtar received the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for drama Monday for his play “Disgraced,” which had its world premiere at Chicago’s American Theater Company in January 2012.

It’s the story of Amir, a seemingly assimilated corporate lawyer of Pakistani Muslim heritage. Married to a white, Midwestern woman — a Christian and an artist — and employed by a Jewish law firm, Amir finally must confront many aspects of his conflicted identity.

After its Chicago premiere, the play was staged at New York’s Lincoln Center Theater, and it is soon to go up at London’s Bush Theatre.

The Pulitzer, “for a distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life,” comes with a prize of $10,000.

Akhtar, a 42-year-old American-born actor and writer of Pakistani parentage, was born in New York but spent most of his childhood in Milwaukee, Wis.

After earning a degree in theater from Brown University, Akhtar moved to Europe and studied acting with Jerzy Grotowski, and then returned to the U.S. to teach acting classes with Andre Gregory (of “My Dinner with Andre” fame) and to get his M.A. in directing from Columbia University.

While at Columbia, Akhtar and classmates Tom Glynn and Joseph Castelo devised the idea for “The War Within,” a film about an ordinary man radicalized into becoming a terrorist. Akhtar later starred in the film as Hassan, a would-be terrorist. In 2011 he played Neel Kashkari in the HBO film “Too Big to Fail.”

The two finalists for this year’s drama Pulitzer were: Gina Gionfriddo, whose “Rapture, Blister, Burn” has been described as “a searing comedy that examines the psyches of two women in midlife as they ruefully question the differing choices they have made,” and Amy Herzog, whose “4000 Miles,” about the relationship between “a spiky 91-year-old who locks horns with her rudderless 21-year-old grandson when he shows up at her Greenwich Village apartment after a disastrous cross-country bike trip.” Herzog’s play is set to open Northlight Theatre’s 2013-14 season.

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