It’s hard to imagine the kind of gravity that words had with a ferociously intelligent man like Mr. Albee, who died Sept. 16 at age 88. He chose them and ordered them meticulously–not only in his great works of drama like The Zoo Story, A Delicate Balance and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, but also in lectures and casual conversation. I first met him in 2008 when he handed me the New York Drama Critics’ Circle award for my play August: Osage County. That was very meaningful to me, to receive it from undoubtedly the greatest playwright of a generation. I was in awe of him.
Mr. Albee (he once asked me to call him Edward, but it never felt right) led the charge for a freer form of expression, changing theater and contemporary American life–the way we speak, the way we tell jokes. He shifted long-held beliefs and attitudes about marriage, love and class. He was determined to make trouble–he considered it an essential part of a playwright’s job. He kicked open a door in a conservative world to challenge people and the status quo. He was not interested in making it easy for people to digest prechewed ideas. And he never strayed from his idea of what theater should be. He stuck to his guns.
Mr. Albee was the last of a group of legendary playwrights who essentially defined American drama. There’s not another one of those guys coming through the door. I thank Mr. Albee on behalf of a grateful public.
Letts is a playwright and actor who played George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on Broadway in 2012
This appears in the October 03, 2016 issue of TIME.