August Wilson- 2005
An American playwright whose work illuminated the joys and struggles of the African-American experience in the US
By Caroline Coniglio (Marketing, Class of 2024)
August Wilson was an American Playwright who taught himself everything and worked his way into the theatre industry. Growing up Wilson had to face racism, which made racisms worth fighting for Wilson. “That is simply that I believe race matters – that is the largest, most identifiable and most important part of our personality.” (Wilson 3) Wilson won two Pulitzer prizes from his original play Fences, and The Piano Lesson, that both involve detailed African American characters. Wilson’s most recognized achievement is the Century Cycle, which consists of ten plays on African American history in the 20th century. The Century Cycle gained August Wilson attention and made him important to us today because he reveals racism through playwright with a different point of view. Wilson was able to make racism in playwright understandable for audiences who potentially never went through racism.
Wilson faced constant backlash and racism towards his family, and at just fifteen, Wilson dropped out of school and began self-teaching himself education outside of the school system. At a young age Wilson turned to poetry and soon after theatre, he began to write plays that gained attention. In 1968, August Wilson became the cofounder and director of Black Horizon Theatre. Being black in Pittsburgh wasn’t easy. Wilson said, “Pittsburgh is a very hard city, especially if you’re black.” (Wilson) Wilson’s humble beginnings can remind people that someone always has it worse, and at the end of the day we are all human, even despite our different histories. Wilson’s plays at Black Horizon Theatre as well as outside Black Horizon Theatre showed characters struggle with racism, and opened the audience’s eyes to the constant judgment African Americans face.
August Wilson made a big impact in African American theatre. In 1968 Black Horizons theatre began and August Wilson didn’t hesitate to be a helping co-founder. Wilson co-founded the theatre with his close friend Rob Penny. Wilson’s play tickets for his first play were only 50 cents. Wilson’s plays gained attention of high-class audiences who really started to appreciate African American history. Before August Wilson, people still were very closeminded to coming to terms with real African American struggles in everyday life. If it didn’t apply to the audience, then it wasn’t something they had to worry about, but Wilson changed that perspective. “…I founded Black Horizons Theatre in Pittsburgh with the idea of using the theatre to politicize the community or, as we said in those days, to raise the consciousness of the people.” (Wilson) His detailed characters made audiences fall in love and Wilson even went on to win two Pulitzer Prizes because of his talent to captivate an audience. Wilson one his first Pulitzer prize in 1987 for his Broadway show, Fences. And later won his second Pulitzer prize in 1990 for another Broadway show, The Piano Lesson.
Wilson embraced the Black Art Movement back in 1965, which was a movement based on black pride and through activism and art they tried to get their message across. This movement was when Wilson was still getting started in the theatre industry. The movement greatly impacted theatre and poetry, two things Wilson loved, and that made him want to be a part of such a great movement. It inspired Wilson to work harder when it comes to his work. The Black Arts Movement continued until 1975, this movement allowed African Americans to have a voice in mass media. It spurred political activism and use of speech throughout all African American communities.
In conclusion, August Wilson truly did so much for the African American community and paved the way for many future activists and playwrights. If it wasn’t for Wilson’s plays, audiences wouldn’t have known or truly understood what it was like being treated differently for the color of one’s skin.
Bigsby, Christopher. The Cambridge Companion to August Wilson. Cambridge-United Kingdom, United Kingdom, Cambridge University Press, 2007.
Wilson, August. “The Ground on Which I Stand.” AMERICAN THEATRE, 6 Jan. 2017, www.americantheatre.org/2016/06/20/the-ground-on-which-i-stand.