Poet, Playwright, and So Much More
August Wilson is a man who, outside of the theatrical world, is not very well known. Yet there are those, like Paul Carter Harrison, who would rank him in "the same 'artistic continuum' as Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison, and Thelonius Monk."1 When I began research on August Wilson I asked myself, so what? So what if he's won awards and recognition? What has he done to merit them? What makes this man important enough to do a research paper on? Why not Langston Hughes or Martin Luther King, Jr.? What makes this man matter in this society? As I continued my research I realized that, throughout my entire life, I had been deprived of knowing about such a man as August Wilson. I realized he stands for what Martin Luther King, Jr. stands for. He writes in the ways of Imamu Amiri Baraka, Langston Hughes, and Ralph Ellison. Through what Wilson has accomplished, and continues to strive towards, the black community will benefit a million-fold should they heed his words.
Being the 1st African-American playwright to be produced in mainstream American theatre, and in 10 years having 6 of his plays become major Broadway productions, August Wilson is a serious literary force. He has had two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama accredited to his name, which is significant in itself, as he is "the 6th playwright to have achieved this honor twice and the 3rd black playwright to have ever received it. He has won every major award for theatre and drama in the country at least once and is one of the most honored playwrights in America."2 His list of awards contains tittles such as: the McKnight, Bush, Rockefeller and Guggenheim Fellowships, the Drama Desk Awards, and the Chicago Tribune's Artist of the Year. He has received several New York Circle Awards, the Edward Albee Last Frontier Playwright Award, the Whiting Foundation Award, and the Jerome Fellowship. His play Fences was the first play in 30 years to win all of the major awards. In 1984, Wilson was invited to join the New Dramatists, which, founded in 1949, is the largest non-profit workshop for playwrights. In 1988 he was added to the list of Literary Lions by the New York Public Library.Y In 1987, "Mayor George Latimer of St. Paul, Minnesota proclaimed May 27th August Wilson Day" and he is often referred to as the "Bard of St. Paul."3 After all this recognition and acclaim August Wilson is still an unknown to countless millions. I myself, being a Theatre major, was not even aware of his monstrous achievements until I took a play analysis class as part of my major's requirement.
He was born Frederick August Kittel, Jr. on April 27, 1945, the 4th of 6 to Frederick August Kittel, Sr., a white German baker, and Daisy Wilson, and an African-American cleaning woman. His was an archetypal black childhood and adolescence and it seemed doubtful of producing such a highly acclaimed poet and playwright. His father left when Wilson was very young, leaving Daisy, Wilson and his 5 other siblings on their own. Wilson grew up in 'the Hill,' an integrated section in Pittsburgh of primarily African-Americans. They lived at 1727 Bedford Ave above Bella's Grocery Store in a 2-room apartment with no hot water and few comforts except a radio. His mother remarried but the relationship between Wilson and his stepfather David Bedford was a conflicted one. Regardless, Bedford relocated the family to a white suburb where Wilson encountered increasing racism. In 1959 he was enrolled in Pittsburgh's prestigious Central Catholic High School. Unfortunately, he had to change schools because of increasing discrimination from other students. He was the only black in a student body of 1,500 and the principal would often send him home in a cab because of groups of up to 40 boys were often waiting to catch him on his way home to beat him up. This, however, didn't help him when he was walking to school in the morning. In 1960, at the age of 15 he dropped out of...