Lee, a native New Yorker who spent most of his teenage years in Stroudsburg, has a story to tell of his own. Since his days at Bloomsburg, he has become an accomplished playwright and Hollywood screenwriter who has written and produced plays that have been staged in venues from San Francisco to New York City.
“I wonder why people keep asking me, a writer, to come and give speeches at events like this,” Lee said as he took the podium at this spring’s Lavender Graduation, Bloomsburg’s annual LGBTQA graduation ceremony. “Then I thought about the idea of creating a narrative.”
Creating our own narratives is how Lee believes we each cope with our daily lives, whether we make ourselves the heroes of our commute to work because we managed to make it through every green light, or cling to a larger story of how we perceive the world because it gives us comfort.
“The world is scary and chaotic,” Lee says. “The scarier and the more chaotic it is, the more we’re looking for a story to tell ourselves.”
His own love of storytelling began when he was 14 and read Tony Kushner’s play “Angels in America,” an experience that changed the way he thought about how stories could be told.
“As a gay teenager, reading this book changed the way I looked at things. I realized you could write something that could mean something to you and could also entertain people,” says Lee. “You could help people share their private stories in a public way that would also empower them.”
“The story that we create for ourselves is the thing we go to that helps give that chaotic universe structure,” says Lee.
Much of Lee’s life in high school was structured around his passion for theatre and several friends who shared that passion. The close-knit group attended Bloomsburg University together and continued to pursue careers in theatre.
Lee’s passion for storytelling flourished at BU. With the encouragement of faculty in both the theatre and English departments, and the support of his family, friends and partner, Adrian Anchondo ’05, Lee wrote a play while he was a student that transformed his life.
The BU Players performed the play, “Night of the Wannabes: An Exorcism” with great success. It went on tour and received an award at the Kennedy Center’s American College Theatre Festival. This work helped reinforce Lee’s confidence that he was creating the right narrative for himself.
After graduating, Lee taught at the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Performing Arts in Bethlehem while he continued to write. He also obtained his artist’s diploma in playwriting from The Juilliard School in New York City.
Lee began to garner accolades and recognition for his writing. In 2010, he penned a play, “Pookie Goes Grenading,” a comedy that follows the journey of a 14-year-old girl turned terrorist. National critics took note. “Lee’s writing demonstrates a wild sense of fantasy combined with a desperate grip on reality,” wrote The Huffington Post.
In 2014, Lee’s play, “Luce,” debuted at New York City’s Lincoln Center Theater. The exposure opened the door to the cable television industry as a writer for the show “Looking” on HBO in 2015. Following that success, Lee moved on to the next challenge when he landed a gig writing for ABC’s hit drama, “How to Get Away with Murder.”
“We all tell our own stories,” says Lee. “Stories that give us purpose. Stories that give us a sense of community. Telling your story isn’t going to change the world, but it is going to change how you view it. You are a character in your story, so why not make yourself the hero you want to be?”•
Supporting the next generation
Lee and his partner Adrian Anchondo ’05 became Carver Scholars by making a gift of $1,867 to the Henry Carver Fund, Bloomsburg University’s Annual Fund, which supports the university’s area of greatest need.
For Lee and Anchondo, this was the first gift either had made to support their alma mater since graduating.
“Honestly, we just really never thought about it until someone reached out to us and explained how much the support was needed and how it helps students,” says Lee. “We learned that our gift could support scholarships, help students cover costs for books and tuition or even help create internship opportunities. We’ve done well, and a lot of our success is due to our experience at Bloomsburg. We’re happy to help other students have those same types of experiences.”•