David Auburn is a Tony Award– and Pulitzer Prize–winning American playwright, screenwriter, and director best known for his 2000 play Proof, which he also adapted for the screen, and for the screenplay for the film The Lake House. His play The Columnist opened on Broadway in 2012.
David Auburn was born on November 30, 1969, in Chicago, Illinois, to Mark Auburn and Sandy K. Auburn. He grew up in Ohio and moved with his family to Arkansas in 1982, where his mother worked first for the East Arkansas Area Agency on Aging in Jonesboro (Craighead County) and then as the assistant deputy director of the Division of Aging and Adult Services for the Arkansas Department of Human Services in Little Rock (Pulaski County). His father was the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Arkansas State University (ASU) in Jonesboro and then Vice President for Planning and Management Support of the University of Arkansas System.
In high school in Arkansas, he worked for local professional companies in such jobs as stage hand or assistant to the lighting designer. Auburn graduated in 1987 and attended the University of Chicago, where he wrote scripts for the performance group Off-Off Campus and began reviewing theater performances for the Maroon. Auburn received a BA in English literature in 1991. After graduation, Auburn won a fellowship with Amblin Entertainment for one year. He then moved to New York City and spent two years in Juilliard’s playwriting program, beginning in 1992, studying under the noted dramatists Marsha Norman and Christopher Durang. His first full-length play, Skyscraper, ran off-Broadway in 1997. His short play “What Do You Believe about the Future?” appeared in Harper’s magazine and has since been adapted for the screen.
In 2000, Auburn’s best-known play, Proof, was produced. It ran from October 24, 2000, to January 5, 2003. It won the 2001 Tony Award for Best Play, as well as the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Auburn has adapted it into a film, which was released in 2005. Following Proof, he wrote the screenplay for the movie The Lake House, released by Warner Bros. in 2006. In 2007, he made his directorial debut with The Girl in the Park, for which he also wrote the screenplay. He returned to Broadway in 2012 with The Columnist, starring John Lithgow and based on the life of Washington DC newspaper columnist Joseph Alsop. His play Lost Lake, starring John Hawkes and Tracie Thomas, opened at the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York City in 2014.
Auburn’s work often revolves around death and tragedy but with warmth, humor, and strong characterization. Proof tells the story of a young woman haunted by the ghost of her father, a brilliant mathematician. Skyscraper, Auburn’s first play, focused on a suicide but maintained comic elements as well. In an interview with Zachary Werner for Otium, Auburn said that “in any human situation there is the potential for humor and pathos, both. I like stories that surprise you with sudden shifts of mood or tone, so that as an audience member you never quite settle into complacency.”
Auburn has been awarded the Helen Merrill Playwriting Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship, as well as a New York Critic’s Circle Award. He married Francis Rosenfeld in 1999 and resides in Manhattan.