Steve Tesich

Stojan Steve Tesich (Serbian: Стојан Стив Тешић, Stojan Stiv Tešić; September 29, 1942 – July 1, 1996) was a Serbian American screenwriter, playwright, and novelist. He won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 1979 for the film Breaking Away.

Steve Tesich
Tesich in 1990
BornStojan Tešić
(1942-09-29)September 29, 1942
Užice, Nazi-occupied Serbia
DiedJuly 1, 1996(1996-07-01) (aged 53)
Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada

Early life

Steve Tesich was born as Stojan Tešić (pronounced TESH-ich) in Užice, in Axis-occupied Yugoslavia (now Serbia) on September 29, 1942. He immigrated to the United States with his mother and sister when he was 14 years old.[1] His family settled in East Chicago, Indiana. His father died in 1962.

Tesich graduated from Indiana University in 1965 with a BA in Russian. He was a member of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. He went on to do graduate work at Columbia University, receiving an MA in Russian Literature in 1967.

After graduation, he worked as a Department of Welfare caseworker in Brooklyn, New York in 1968.[2]


In the 1970s, he wrote a series of plays that were staged at The American Place Theatre in New York City. The first of these plays, The Carpenters, premiered during the 1970-1971 season.[3] Baba Goya made its debut at the theater in May 1973; the cast included Olympia Dukakis and John Randolph. Later that year, the play was staged at the Cherry Lane Theatre under a different name (Nourish the Beast).[4]

Tesich's screenplay for Breaking Away (1979) had its origins in his college years. He had been an alternate rider in 1962 for the Phi Kappa Psi team in the Little 500 bicycle race. Teammate Dave Blase rode 139 of 200 laps and was the victory rider crossing the finish line for his team. They subsequently developed a friendship. Blase became the model for the main character in Breaking Away.[5] The film was a hit, and Tesich won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.[6] He also created a short-lived TV series of the same name.

His play Division Street opened at the Ambassador Theatre in New York City on October 8, 1980. The production starred John Lithgow and Keene Curtis. It closed after 21 performances. The play was revived in 1987 at the Second Stage, with Saul Rubinek in the lead role.[7]

Tesich reunited with Peter Yates, the director of Breaking Away, on the 1981 thriller film Eyewitness.[8]

He adapted John Irving's novel The World According to Garp for the screen in 1982. The best-selling novel had been described as unfilmable.[9]

Tesich returned to the sport of cycling with the screenplay for American Flyers (1985). The main characters were two brothers, played by Kevin Costner and David Marshall Grant, who enter a long-distance bicycle race in the Colorado Rockies.[10]

His novel Karoo was published posthumously in 1998. Arthur Miller described the novel: "Fascinating—a real satiric invention full of wise outrage." The novel was a New York Times Notable Book for 1998.[11] The novel also appeared in a German translation as Abspann, and it was also translated in France in 2012 where it was acclaimed by the critics and became a best-seller.[12]

Oxford Dictionaries credits Tesich with the first use of the term "post-truth," which Oxford defined as "circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief." Ralph Keyes, author of The Post-Truth Era (2004), also says he first saw the term "in a 1992 Nation essay by the late Steve Tesich." Post-truth was Oxford's 2016 Word of the Year.[13]


Tesich died in Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada on July 1, 1996, following a heart attack. He was 53 years old.[14]

Honors and awards

In 1973, Tesich won the Drama Desk Award for Most Promising Playwright for the play Baba Goya, which is also known under the title Nourish the Beast.

Tesich won the following awards for the Breaking Away screenplay in 1979, whose original working title was Bambino:

  • Academy Award, Best Original Screenplay
  • National Society of Film Critics Award, Best Screenplay
  • New York Film Critics Circle Award, Best Screenplay
  • Writers Guild of America Award, Best-Written Comedy Written Directly for the Screen
  • Screenwriter of the Year, ALFS Award from the London Critics Circle Film Awards, 1981

He also received a nomination in 1980 for a Golden Globe for Best Screenplay-Motion Picture.

In 2005, the Ministry of Religion and Diaspora established the annual Stojan—Steve Tešić Award, to be awarded to the writers of Serbian origin that write in other languages.




  • The Carpenters, play for television, 1973
  • Nourish the Beast, play for television, 1974
  • Apple Pie, television series, 1978
  • Breaking Away, television series, 1980-1981


  • The Carpenters, 1970
  • Lake of the Woods, 1971
  • Nourish the Beast, also performed under the title Baba Goya, 1973
  • Gorky, 1975
  • Passing Game, 1977
  • Touching Bottom, 1978
  • Division Street, 1980
  • The Speed Of Darkness, 1989
  • Square One, 1990
  • The Road, 1990
  • Baptismal, 1990
  • On the Open Road, 1992
  • Arts & Leisure, 1996


  • Summer Crossing (1982), was also published in a German translation as Ein letzter Sommer and in a French translation as Price
  • Karoo (1996, posthumously released 1998), paperback edition in 2004 with new introduction by E. L. Doctorow; German-language version entitled Abspann and a French-language version Karoo same as original.


  • Division Street & other plays. New York: Performing Arts Journal Publications, 1981. 171 pages. Contents: Division Street -- Baba Goya -- Lake of the Woods -- Passing Game.


  1. Oliver, Myrna. "Obituary : Steve Tesich; Won Oscar for 'Breaking Away' Screenplay". Los Angeles Times.
  2. Weber, Bruce (2 July 1996). "Steve Tesich, 53, Whose Plays Plumbed the Nation's Identity". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 January 2012.
  3. Barnes, Clive. "Theater: 'The Carpenters' Arrives". The New York Times.
  4. Barnes, Clive. "Theater: Tesich Comedy". The New York Times.
  5. Jim Caple. "Nothing little about IU's Little 500". ESPN Sports.
  6. Lubow, Arthur. "With An Oscar in Tow, Writer Steve Tesich Finds His Career Is Finally Breaking Away". People.
  7. Rich, Frank. "Stage: Steve Tesich's 'Division Street'". The New York Times.
  8. Kempley, Rita. "'Eyewitness'". The Washington Post.
  9. Vallance, Tom. "George Roy Hill". The Independent.
  10. Snel, Alan. "Cast of iconic cycling film takes trip down memory lane in Las Vegas". Las Vegas Sun.
  11. "Notable Books of 1998". The New York Times.
  13. Kreitner, Richard (January 6, 1992). "Post-Truth and Its Consequences: What a 25-Year-Old Essay Tells Us About the Current Moment". The Nation.
  14. Viagas, Robert. "Playwright Steve Tesich Dies at 53". Playbill.
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