Americans for the Arts presents the
34th Annual Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy

Ayad Akhtar

Ayad Akhtar

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author and President of PEN America

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts*
Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022
:30 PM ET

Watch the 34th Annual Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy

Download the 2022 Transcript

Ayad Akhtar is a novelist and playwright. His work has been published and performed in over two dozen languages. He is the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the Edith Wharton Citation of Merit for Fiction, and an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Akhtar is the author of Homeland Elegies (Little, Brown & Co.), which The Washington Post called “a tour de force” and The New York Times called “a beautiful novel…that had echoes of The Great Gatsby and that circles, with pointed intellect, the possibilities and limitations of American life.” Homeland Elegies was named one of the Top 10 Books of 2020 by The New York Times, The Washington Post, and TIME Magazine. Former President Barack Obama named Homeland Elegies one of his favorite books of 2020. Akhtar's first novel, American Dervish (Little, Brown & Co.), was published in over 20 languages.

As a playwright, he has written Junk (Lincoln Center, Broadway; Kennedy Prize for American Drama, Tony nomination); Disgraced (Lincoln Center, Broadway; Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Tony nomination); The Who & The What (Lincoln Center); and The Invisible Hand (NYTW; Obie Award, Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Award, Olivier, and Evening Standard nominations).

Among other honors, Akhtar is the recipient of the Steinberg Playwrighting Award, the Nestroy Award, the Erwin Piscator Award, as well as fellowships from the American Academy in Rome, MacDowell, the Sundance Institute, and Yaddo, where he serves as a board director. Additionally, Ayad is a board trustee at New York Theatre Workshop and PEN America, where he serves as president. In 2021, Akhtar was named the New York State Author, succeeding Colson Whitehead, by the New York State Writers Institute.

To read more about Ayad Akhtar and reviews of his highly reviewed publications, please visit his website.


Featuring Performances by Guest Artists Rez Abbasi and Kiran Ahluwalia

Rez Abbasi is a guitarist, composer, author, and 2021 Guggenheim Fellow. He is a rare breed of artist, who continues to push boundaries from within the traditions he has embraced. Consistently placing on DownBeat magazine’s International Critics Poll in guitar alongside luminaries Bill Frisell and Pat Metheny since 2014, Abbasi continues to forge new ground with his multi-dimensional projects.

With 15 self-titled albums and multiple composition grants, Abbasi’s wide-ranging projects continue to capture the attention of The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and NPR to name a few. His recent Django-shift recasts legendary guitarist Django Reinhardt’s lesser-known compositions into a modern light. In 2019, commissioned by the New York Guitar Festival, he released his live score to the 1929 Indian/German silent film A Throw of Dice and in 2018, his long-standing group featuring band-mates Vijay Iyer and Rudresh Mahanthappa released Unfiltered Universe, the third in a trilogy of albums that set out to explore South Asian musical influences with jazz. Next year, 2023 will see two exciting projects: the release of his 16th album, a collaboration with American sitarist Josh Feinberg and the release of a new album with his life partner, Indian vocalist and composer Kiran Ahluwalia. To learn more please visit


Kiran Ahluwalia is a modern exponent of the great vocal traditions of India and Pakistan, which she honors yet departs from in masterful, personal ways. Her original compositions embody the essence of Indian music while embracing influences from West African blues to nuances of jazz, especially through the influence of life and musical partner Rez Abbasi.

Born In India, Kiran studied Indian music since childhood. When the family immigrated to Canada, she continued her musical training alongside her regular school. After graduating from the University of Toronto, she returned to India where she spent years of intense deep study in music. Back in Canada in the late 90s, she followed more ‘practical’ pursuits - she got an MBA in Finance and started working as a trader. And there, it might have ended if Kiran had not had recurring visions of being on her deathbed not having lived out her passion. So she left the world of business and threw herself totally into a life devoted to the making of her own music.

Over the course of seven albums, Kiran has earned two JUNOs (Canadian Grammys), two Canadian Folk Awards, and the UK’s Songlines Award. She has toured the world with notable performances at Lincoln Center in New York City, festival au desert in Mali, the Paleo festival in Switzerland, and more. She has established herself as one of global music’s most compelling cross-pollinators. Her reworking of the classic Qawwali tune Mustt Mustt with the legendary Malian group Tinariwen has garnered more than 3 million views online. To learn more, please visit

Welcoming Remarks and Introductions

Stephen B. Heintz is president and CEO of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF).

Heintz has devoted his career to strengthening democratic culture and institutions to better serve citizens. In 2000, he co-founded Dēmos, a public policy organization that works to reduce political and economic inequality. In 2018, he was named by the Academy of Arts and Sciences as one of three co-chairs of a national commission on the practice of democratic citizenship and co-authored the commission’s report, Our Common Purpose: Reinventing American Democracy for the 21st Century.

On the international stage, Heintz served as executive vice president for the EastWest Institute during the 1990s. Based in Prague, he helped propel civil society development, economic reform, and international security in Central and Eastern Europe’s burgeoning democracies. In 2002, he led the RBF’s joint initiative with the UN Association of the USA to open a Track II dialogue that helped lay the groundwork for the Iran nuclear deal.

Heintz led the RBF to divest from fossil fuels in 2104 and has since pursued a robust strategy of mission-aligned investing, establishing the RBF as a leader in the Divest-Invest movement. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and of the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development. He serves on the boards of the Quincy Institute and the Rockefeller Archive Center. He is the recipient of the Council on Foundations 2018 Distinguished Service Award.


Nolen V. Bivens joined Americans for the Arts in 2021 as president and CEO and has supported and advocated for the arts as a national asset for much of his life. A retired U.S. Army Brigadier General with 32 years of service as an Infantry officer, Nolen is a passionate advocate for the benefits of the arts to service members and Veterans suffering the invisible wounds of war and the role the community plays in transcending trauma. He has advised numerous arts groups as well as federal, state, and local arts agencies, utilizing his unique understanding of operational perspectives of commanders, enlisted noncommissioned officers, and Veterans and family members, to promote connections, advance equitable and collaborative partnerships, and help develop new arts programming for military and veteran communities. Read Nolen’s full bio on the Americans for the Arts website.


Julie C. Muraco is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Americans for the Arts. She is also the founder and Managing Partner of Praeditis Group LLC, a capital markets & business consultancy working with serial entrepreneurs, UHNW/family offices and foundations & endowments seeking direct and secondary investments and alternative investment strategies. She founded Praeditis Group with a concentration on the “permanent private capital” and “impact investment” business models in 2008. Read Julie’s full bio on the Americans for the Arts website.


*The Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts & Public Policy is produced exclusively by Americans for the Arts. This program is an external rental presented in coordination with the Kennedy Center Campus Rentals Office and is not produced by the Kennedy Center.

Americans for the Arts is pleased to make this event accessible nationwide by livestreaming the lecture with ASL interpretation.

ASL Interpretation ProvidedLive Stream Available

Americans for the Arts extends its gratitude to The Rosenthal Family Foundation (Jamie Rosenthal Wolf, David Wolf, Rick Rosenthal, and Nancy Stephens) and Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck for their generous support of the Americans for the Arts 34th Annual Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy.