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About August Wilson
August Wilson (1945–2005) authored Gem of the Ocean, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Piano Lesson, Seven Guitars, Fences, Two Trains Running, Jitney, King Hedley II and Radio Golf. These works explore the heritage and experience of African Americans, decade by decade, over the course of the twentieth century. Mr. Wilson’s plays have been produced at regional theaters across the country, on Broadway and throughout the world. In 2003, Mr. Wilson made his professional stage debut in his one-man show How I Learned What I Learned.
Mr. Wilson’s work garnered many awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fences (1987) and The Piano Lesson (1990); a Tony Award for Fences; Great Britain’s Olivier Award for Jitney; and eight New York Drama Critics Circle awards for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Fences, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, The Piano Lesson, Two Trains Running, Seven Guitars, Jitney and Radio Golf. Additionally, the cast recording of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom received a 1985 Grammy Award, and Mr. Wilson received a 1995 Emmy Award nomination for his screenplay adaptation of The Piano Lesson. Mr. Wilson’s early works include the one act plays: The Janitor, Recycle, The Coldest Day of the Year, Malcolm X, The Homecoming and the musical satire Black Bart and the Sacred Hills.
Mr. Wilson received many fellowships and awards, including Rockefeller and Guggenheim fellowships in playwriting, the Whiting Writers Award and the 2003 Heinz Award. He was awarded a 1999 National Humanities Medal by the President of the United States, and received numerous honorary degrees from colleges and universities, as well as the only high school diploma ever issued by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.
He was an alumnus of New Dramatists, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a 1995 inductee into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and on October 16, 2005, Broadway renamed the theater located at 245 West 52nd Street: The August Wilson Theatre. In 2007, he was posthumously inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame.
Mr. Wilson was born and raised in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, and lived in Seattle at the time of his death. He is survived by two daughters, Sakina Ansari and Azula Carmen Wilson, and his wife, costume designer Constanza Romero.
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Troy Maxson is a strong man, a hard man. He has had to be to survive. Troy Maxson has gone through life in an America where to be proud and black is to face pressures that could crush a man, body and soul. But the 1950s are yielding to the new spirit of liberation in the 1960s, a spirit that is changing the world Troy Maxson has learned to deal with the only way he can, a spirit that is making him a stranger, angry and afraid, in a world he never knew and to a wife and son he understands less and less. This is a modern classic, a book that deals with the impossibly difficult themes of race in America, set during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s.
Now an Academy Award-winning film directed by and starring Denzel Washington, along with Academy Award and Golden Globe winner Viola Davis.
August Wilson has already given the American theater such spell-binding plays about the black experience in 20th-century America as Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Fences. In his second Pulitzer Prize-winner, The Piano Lesson, Wilson has fashioned perhaps his most haunting and dramatic work.
At the heart of the play stands the ornately carved upright piano which, as the Charles family's prized, hard-won possession, has been gathering dust in the parlor of Berniece Charles's Pittsburgh home. When Boy Willie, Berniece's exuberant brother, bursts into her life with his dream of buying the same Mississippi land that his family had worked as slaves, he plans to sell their antique piano for the hard cash he needs to stake his future. But Berniece refuses to sell, clinging to the piano as a reminder of the history that is their family legacy. This dilemma is the real "piano lesson," reminding us that blacks are often deprived both of the symbols of their past and of opportunity in the present.
“The glow accompanying August Wilson’s place in contemporary American theater is fixed.”—Toni Morrison
When Harold Loomis arrives at a black Pittsburgh boardinghouse after seven years' impressed labor on Joe Turner's chain gang, he is a free man—in body. But the scars of his enslavement and a sense of inescapable alienation oppress his spirit still, and the seemingly hospitable rooming house seethes with tension and distrust in the presence of this tormented stranger. Loomis is looking for the wife he left behind, believing that she can help him reclaim his old identity. But through his encounters with the other residents he begins to realize that what he really seeks is his rightful place in a new world—and it will take more than the skill of the local “People Finder” to discover it.
This jazz-influenced drama is a moving narrative of African-American experience in the 20th century.
Winner of the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play
It is the spring of 1948. In the still cool evenings of Pittsburgh's Hill district, familiar sounds fill the air. A rooster crows. Screen doors slam. The laughter of friends gathered for a backyard card game rises just above the wail of a mother who has lost her son. And there's the sound of the blues, played and sung by young men and women with little more than a guitar in their hands and a dream in their hearts.
August Wilson's Seven Guitars is the sixth chapter in his continuing theatrical saga that explores the hope, heartbreak, and heritage of the African-American experience in the twentieth century. The story follows a small group of friends who gather following the untimely death of Floyd "Schoolboy" Barton, a local blues guitarist on the edge of stardom. Together, they reminisce about his short life and discover the unspoken passions and undying spirit that live within each of them.
From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Fences and The Piano Lesson comes the extraordinary Ma Rainey's Black Bottom—winner of the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play.
The time is 1927. The place is a run-down recording studio in Chicago. Ma Rainey, the legendary blues singer, is due to arrive with her entourage to cut new sides of old favorites. Waiting for her are her Black musician sidemen, the white owner of the record company, and her white manager. What goes down in the session to come is more than music. It is a riveting portrayal of black rage, of racism, of the self-hate that racism breeds, and of racial exploitation.
August Wilson established himself as one of our most distinguished playwrights with his insightful, probing, and evocative portraits of Black America and the African American experience in the twentieth century. With the mesmerizing Two Trains Running, he crafted what Time magazine called “his most mature work to date.”
It is Pittsburgh, 1969, and the regulars of Memphis Lee’s restaurant are struggling to cope with the turbulence of a world that is changing rapidly around them and fighting back when they can. The diner is scheduled to be torn down, a casualty of the city’s renovation project that is sweeping away the buildings of a community, but not its spirit. For just as sure as an inexorable future looms right around the corner, these people of “loud voices and big hearts” continue to search, to father, to persevere, to hope. With compassion, humor, and a superb sense of place and time, Wilson paints a vivid portrait of everyday lives in the shadow of great events.
“What we do now becomes history by which our grandchildren will judge us.” August Wilson’s words, delivered in a speech at Theatre Communications Group’s conference in June 1996, remain as vital and relevant today as they did 25 years ago.
Fierce and passionate, The Ground on Which I Stand is Wilson’s eloquent, personal call for African American artists to seize the power over their own cultural identity and to establish permanent institutions that celebrate and preserve the singular achievements of African American dramatic art and reaffirm its equal importance in contemporary American culture. It is an urgent appeal for an overhaul to the established system in order to provide equitable access and influence throughout the field.
Delivered as the keynote address at TCG’s conference, this speech refocused the agenda of the entire convening, and spurred months of debate about cultural diversity in the American theatre, culminating in a standing-room-only public debate at New York City’s Town Hall. This 25th anniversary edition celebrates Wilson’ s legacy and acts as an essential reminder of the work that still needs to be done.