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Works by
August Wilson
(Playwright)
[ril 27, 1945—October 2, 2005]

Profile created May 22, 2008
Plays
  • Radio Golf (2008)
    Radio Golf is August Wilson's final play. Set in 1990 Pittsburgh, it is the conclusion of his Century Cycle-Wilson's ten-play chronicle of the African American experience throughout the twentieth century-and is the last play he completed before his death. With Radio Golf Wilson's lifework comes full circle as Aunt Ester's onetime home at 1839 Wylie Avenue (the setting of the cycle's first play) is slated for demolition to make way for a slick new real estate venture aimed to boost both the depressed Hill District and Harmond Wilks' chance of becoming the city's first black mayor. A play in which history, memory, and legacy challenge notions of progress and country club ideals, Radio Golf has been produced throughout the country and will come to Broadway this season.

  • August Wilson Century Cycle (2007)
    August Wilson's Century Cycle is "one of the most ambitious dramatic projects ever undertaken" (The New York Times). With it, Wilson dramatizes the African American experience and heritage in the twentieth century, with a play for each decade, almost all set in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, where he grew up. Wilson's extraordinary lifework-completed just before his death in October 2005-is presented here for the first time in its entirety.

  • Gem of the Ocean (2006)
    Gem of the Ocean is the play that begins it all. Set in 1904 Pittsburgh, it is chronologically the first work in August Wilson's decade-by-decade cycle dramatizing the African American experience during the 20th century-an unprecedented series that includes the Pulitzer Prizewinning plays Fences and The Piano Lesson. Aunt Esther, the drama's 287-year-old fiery matriarch, welcomes into her Hill District home Solly Two Kings, who was born into slavery and scouted for the Union Army, and Citizen Barlow, a young man from Alabama searching for a new life. Gem of the Ocean recently played across the country and on Broadway, with Phylicia Rashad as Aunt Esther.

    Earlier in 2005, on the completion of the final work of his ten play cycle-surely the most ambitious American dramatic project undertaken in our history-August Wilson disclosed his bout with cancer, an illness of unusual ferocity that would eventually claim his life on October 2. Fittingly the Broadway theatre where his last play will be produced in 2006 has been renamed the August Wilson Theater in his honor. His legacy will animate the theatre and stir the human heart for decades to come.

  • King Hedley II (2005)
    King Hedley II is the eighth work in playwright August Wilson's 10-play cycle chronicling the history of the African American experience in each decade of the twentieth century. It's set in 1985 and tells the story of an ex-con in post-Reagan Pittsburgh trying to rebuild his life. Many critics have hailed the work as a haunting and challenging tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.

  • Jitney (2003)
    Set in the 1970s in Pittsburgh's Hill District, and depicting gypsy cabdrivers who serve black neighborhoods, Jitney is the seventh in Wilson's projected 10-play cycle (one for each decade) on the black experience in twentieth-century America. A thoroughly revised version of a play Wilson first wrote in 1979, Jitney was produced in New York for the first time in spring 2000, winning rave reviews and the accolade of the New York Drama Critics Circle as the best play of the year.

    One of contemporary theater's most distinguished and eloquent voices, August Wilson writes not about historical events or the pathologies of the black community, but, as he says, about "the unique particulars of black culture . . . I wanted to place this culture onstage in all its richness and fullness and to demonstrate its ability to sustain us . . . through profound moments in our history in which the larger society has thought less of us than we have thought of ourselves."

  • The Ground on Which I Stand (2000)

  • Seven Guitars (1997, 2008)
    An aspiring blues musician returns home to seek his fortune and reclaim his woman.

  • Two Trains Running (1993)

  • The Piano Lesson (1990) -- Winner Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award

  • Joe Turner's Come and Gone (1988)

  • Fences (1985) -- Winner Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award

  • Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (1985)
    In a jazz-era Chicago recording studio, musicians await the great blues diva.

See also:
  • The Cambridge Companion to August Wilson (2007) by Christopher Bigsby
    One of America's most powerful and original dramatists, August Wilson offered an alternative history of the twentieth century, as seen from the perspective of black Americans. He celebrated the lives of those seemingly pushed to the margins of national life, but who were simultaneously protagonists of their own drama and evidence of a vital and compelling community. Decade by decade, he told the story of a people with a distinctive history who forged their own future, aware of their roots in another time and place, but doing something more than just survive. Wilson deliberately addressed black America, but in doing so discovered an international audience. Alongside chapters addressing Wilson's life and career, and the wider context of his plays, this Companion dedicates individual chapters to each play in his ten-play cycle, which are ordered chronologically, demonstrating Wilson's notion of an unfolding history of the twentieth century.

  • Conversations With August Wilson (2006) by Jackson R. Bryer and Mary C. Hartig
    little more than twenty years, playwright August Wilson (1945-2005) completed a ten-play cycle depicting African American life in the twentieth century, with each play taking place in a different decade. Two of the plays—Fences (1987) and The Piano Lesson (1990)—were awarded the Pulitzer Prize, and seven of them received the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for best American play. Wilson was indisputably the most significant American playwright to emerge since Edward Albee, whose first plays were produced in the early 1960s.

    Conversations with August Wilson collects a selection of the many interviews Wilson gave from 1984 to 2004. In the interviews, the playwright covers at length and in detail his plays and his background. He comments as well on such subjects as the differences between African Americans and whites, his call for more black theater companies, and his belief that African Americans made a mistake in assimilating themselves into the white mainstream. He also talks about his major influences, what he calls his "four B’s"—the blues, writers James Baldwin and Amiri Baraka, and painter Romare Bearden. Wilson also discusses his writing process and his multiple collaborations with director Lloyd Richards.

    Throughout, Wilson is candid, expansive, and provocative, displaying in these exchanges his willingness to confront controversial topics just as he does in his plays.

  • The Past as Present in the Drama of August Wilson (2006) by Harry Justin Elam
    Pulitzer-prizewinning playwright August Wilson, author of Fences, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, and The Piano Lesson, among other dramatic works, is one of the most well respected American playwrights on the contemporary stage. The founder of the Black Horizon Theater Company, his self-defined dramatic project is to review twentieth-century African American history by creating a play for each decade.

    Theater scholar and critic Harry J. Elam examines Wilson's published plays within the context of contemporary African American literature and in relation to concepts of memory and history, culture and resistance, race and representation. Elam finds that each of Wilson's plays recaptures narratives lost, ignored, or avoided to create a new experience of the past that questions the historical categories of race and the meanings of blackness.

  • August Wilson and Black Aesthetics (2004), Dana Williams,
    August Wilson and Black Aesthetics offers new essays that address issues raised in Wilson's "The Ground on Which I Stand" speech. Essays and interviews range from examinations of the presence of Wilson's politics in his plays to the limitations of these politics on contemporary interpretations of Black aesthetics. Also included is Sybil Roberts' A Liberating Prayer: A Lovesong for Mumia, that, for two seasons, has played to sold out houses, but that until now has not been published.

  • I Ain't Sorry for Nothin' I Done: August Wilson's Process of Playwriting (2004) by Joan Herrington
    The most successful African-American playwright of his time, August Wilson is a dominant presence on Broadway and in regional theaters throughout the country. Herrington traces the roots of Wilson's drama back to the visual artists and jazz musicians who inspired award-winning plays like Ma Rainey's Come and Gone, Fences and The Piano Lesson. From careful analysis of evolving playscripts and from interviews with Wilson and theater professionals who have worked closely with him, Herrington offers a portrait of the playwright as thinker and craftsman.

  • August Wilson's Fences (2003) by Sandra G. Shannon
    Fences is the story of a responsible yet otherwise flawed black garbage collector in pre-Civil Rights America who, in August Wilson's hands, rises to the level of an epic hero. Deemed a "generational play," it mirrors the classic struggle of status quo, tradition, and age, versus change, innovation, and youth. During its 1987 Broadway run, Fences garnered four Tony Awards, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, and the Pulitzer Prize. It has been produced around the world and is one of the most significant African-American plays of the 20th century. This reference is a comprehensive guide to Wilson's dramatic achievement. The volume begins with an overview of Wilson's aesthetic and dramatic agenda, along with a discussion of the forces that propelled him beyond his potentially troubled life in Pittsburgh to his current status as one of America's most gifted playwrights. A detailed plot summary of Fences is provided, followed by an overview of the play's distinguished production history. The play's historical and cultural background and themes are explored, as is Wilson's dramatic art. The reference closes with a look at the critical and scholarly reception of Fences and a bibliographical essay. Included are rare photos from the play's Broadway premiere and its 1999 premiere in Beijing.

  • Black Manhood in James Baldwin, Ernest J. Gaines, and August Wilson (2002, 2004) by Keith Clark
    From Frederick Douglass to the present, the preoccupation of black writers with manhood and masculinity has been constant. Black Manhood in
    James Baldwin, Ernest J. Gaines, and August Wilson explores how in their own work three major African American writers contest classic portrayals of black men in earlier literature, from slave narratives through the great novels of Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison.

    Keith Clark examines short stories, novels, and plays by Baldwin, Gaines, and Wilson, arguing that since the 1950s the three have interrupted and radically dismantled the constricting literary depictions of black men who equate selfhood with victimization, isolation, and patriarchy. Instead, they have reimagined black men whose identity is grounded in community, camaraderie, and intimacy.

    Delivering original and startling insights, this book will appeal to scholars and students of African American literature, gender studies, and narratology.

  • August Wilson (2001) by Harold Bloom
    In 1987 August Wilson was awarded the Pulitzer prize for his play Fences. Examine this play along with Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, and Two Trains Running.

    This series is edited by Harold Bloom, Sterling Professor of the Humanities, Yale University; Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Professor of English, New York University Graduate School; preeminent literary critic of our time. Titles present the most important 20th-century criticism on major works from The Odyssey through modern literature reflecting a variety of schools of criticism. Texts also contain critical biographies, notes on the contributing critics, a chronology of the author's life, and an index, and an introductory essay by Bloom.

  • Understanding August Wilson (1999) by Mary L. Bogumil

  • The Dramatic Vision of August Wilson (1996) by Sandra G. Shannon

  • August Wilson and the African-American Odyssey (1995) by Kim Pereira

  • May All Your Fences Have Gates: Essays on the Drama of August Wilson (1993) by Alan Nadel

  • Black Thunder: An Anthology of African-American Drama (1992), William B. Branch, ed.

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