August Wilson

August Wilson, 1945–2005, American playwright and poet, b. Pittsburgh as Frederick August Kittel. Largely self-educated, Wilson first attracted wide critical attention with his Broadway debut, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (1984), a play set in 1927 that dramatizes the clash between the blues diva and a member of her band and the larger conflicts brought about by racist American society. Wilson's plays center on the struggles and identity of African Americans and the deleterious effect of white American institutions on black American life. His works draw heavily on Wilson's own experience growing up in the Hill district of Pittsburgh, a black ghetto where nearly all of his plays are set. His characters are ordinary people whose histories, frustrations, and aspirations Wilson astutely portrays. His cycle of ten dramas written over a period of more than 20 years include various overlapping characters and themes. In addition to Ma Rainey, it includes Jitney (1982), Fences (1987; Pulitzer Prize, Tony Award), Joe Turner's Come and Gone (1988), The Piano Lesson (1990; Pulitzer Prize), Two Trains Running (1992), Seven Guitars (1995), King Hedley II (2001), Gem of the Ocean (2003), and Radio Golf (2005). Acclaimed as landmarks in the history of black American culture, these works focus on the major issues confronting African Americans during each of the decades of the 20th cent. In 2003, Wilson starred in a production of his autobiographical one-man play How I Learned What I Learned.

See studies by M. Elkins, ed. (1994), A. Nadel, ed. (1994), K. Pereira (1995), S. G. Shannon (1995), J. Herrington (1998), Y. Shafer (1998), M. L. Bogumil (1999), Q. Wang (1999), P. Wolfe (1999), H. Bloom, ed. (2002), H. J. Elam, Jr. (2004), and M. E. Snodgrass (2004).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2013, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

A Search for a Postmodern Theater: Interviews with Contemporary Playwrights
John L. DiGaetani.
Greenwood Press, 1991
Librarian’s tip: "August Wilson" begins on p. 275
August Wilson on Playwriting: An Interview
Heard, Elisabeth J.
African American Review, Vol. 35, No. 1, Spring 2001
Realism and the American Dramatic Tradition
William W. Demastes.
University of Alabama Press, 1996
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Fourteen "The Limits of African-American Political Realism: Baraka's Dutchman and Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"
African-American Performance and Theater History: A Critical Reader
Harry J. Elam Jr.; David Krasner.
Oxford University Press, 2001
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 8 "Audience and Africanisms in August Wilson's Dramaturgy: A Case Study"
Blues, History and the Dramaturgy of August Wilson
Plum, Jay.
African American Review, Vol. 27, No. 4, Winter 1993
Staging Difference: Cultural Pluralism in American Theatre and Drama
Marc Maufort.
Peter Lang, 1995
Librarian’s tip: "Breaking Barriers: August Wilson" begins on p. 267
August Wilson's Fences: A Reference Guide
Sandra G. Shannon.
Greenwood Press, 2003
Call-and-Response: Parallel "Slave Narrative" in August Wilson's 'The Piano Lesson.' (African American Author)
Boan, Devon.
African American Review, Vol. 32, No. 2, Summer 1998
Aspects of Africanness in August Wilson's Drama: Reading 'The Piano Lesson' through Wole Soyinka's Drama
Bissiri, Amadou.
African American Review, Vol. 30, No. 1, Spring 1996
The Shaman's Apprentice: Ecstasy and Economy in Wilson's Joe Turner
Keller, James R.
African American Review, Vol. 35, No. 3, Fall 2001
"We's the Leftovers": Whiteness as Economic Power and Exploitation in August Wilson's Twentieth-Century Cycle of Plays
Usekes, Cigdem.
African American Review, Vol. 37, No. 1, Spring 2003
A Transplant That Did Not Take: August Wilson's Views on the Great Migration
Shannon, Sandra G.
African American Review, Vol. 31, No. 4, Winter 1997
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