August Wilson - Biography and Works

August Wilson (1945-2005) the African-American playwright, is the son of a white father who never lived with his family and a black mother who had come from North Carolina to a Pittsburgh slum, where she worked to keep her family together. He grew up in the Hill district of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His childhood experiences in this black slum community influenced his dramatic writings.

August Wilson (1945-2005)

He preferred to call himself a black nationalist. He often used to feel comfortable to use this word. He himself actively took part in the civil rights movements.

A precious boy from his childhood, Wilson once wrote a sophisticated paper, even at the time when he was a schoolboy. The administration failed to believe in the validity of the work. Wilson was accused of committing the sin of plagiarism. Humiliated at this kind of treatment, Wilson left the school. He prepared for the future writing career.

Most part of Wilson's writing is rooted in music. Blues are the music which had served as the underpinning of his plays. In Fences, he has experimented with the blues songs. He had developed an interest in the speech pattern and rhythms of the black people. In the final period of his writing career, he employed the black language pattern in his writings.

Jitney and Fullerton Street are Wilson's preliminary exercise in play writing. These two plays did not open the threshold of business success. Ma Rainey's Black Bottom became a tremendous commercial success. It enabled him to win the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. The play is about the legendary black blues singer. This play's focuses are exploitation by white managers and recording executives. Moreover, it also deals with the way in which she knowingly dealt with her exploitation.

Fences opened at the Yale Repertory theatre in 1985 and won the Pulitzer Prize. Set in the 1950's, it tells the story of Troy Maxson, an illiterate garbage collector who has become embittered by a white-controlled system that has denied him the baseball stardom he feels he deserves. Fences opened on Broadway in the spring of 1987 to enormous critical acclaim.

Joe Turners' Come and Gone (1988) is Wilson's highly successful play. It has been hailed as an important play. This play documents the 1910's-tells the story of Harold Loomis, a black man cruelly imprisoned for seven years by the white authorities for an unknown offense. Finally free, Loomis sets out in search of his wife Martha, who he hasn't seen in ten years. Joe Turner's Come and Gone was voted Best New Play of the Year by the New York Drama Critics' Circle. Furthermore, it is a study of the children of former slaves. It gives insight into the study of people in the transition period. He makes a special effort to highlight the elements of African heritage that white’s society strips away from the black.

Of all plays of Wilson The Piano Lesson is typically concerned with the representation of black attitudes towards their own heritages. The piano represents two kinds of culture: the white culture that produced the musical instruments and the black culture in the form of Boy Willie who carved into it images from black Africa. The central theme of Wilson’s work is how one exorcises the past-how one live with it or without it. The Piano Lesson was named Best Play of the Year by the New York Drama Critics' Circle. It also earned Wilson his 2nd Pulitzer Prize for Drama, as well as a Drama Desk Award.

Wilson's next important play Seven Guitars focuses on a blues musician, Floyd Barton, who hopes to regain his lost love. Later plays of Wilson thematise the breakdown of the black community’s extended family structure.

Wilson's other awards include the New York Drama Critics Circle Award (1985, 1987, 1988), the Whiting Foundation Award (1986), the American Theatre Critics Award (1986, 1989, 1991), the Outer Circle Award (1987), the Drama Desk Award (1987), the John Gassner Award (1987), the Tony Award (1987), the Helen Hayer Award (1988), and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama (1987, 1990).

August Wilson Study Center

Fences (Drama)