“A novelist writes a novel, and people read it. But reading is a solitary act. While it may elicit a varied and personal response, the communal nature of the audience is like having five hundred people read your novel and respond to it at the same time. I find that thrilling.” – August Wilson
Born this week in 1945, Wilson was an African-American playwright whose work was highlighted by the series of ten plays, The Pittsburgh or Century Cycle, for which he received two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama. Each of the10 plays is set in a different decade of the 20th Century, depicting the comic and tragic aspects of the century’s Black experience.
I had the good fortune to first meet this wonderful playwright in 1987 while he was writing, directing and producing theater in St. Paul, Minn., and shortly after he wrote the amazing Fences, for which he won both the Pulitzer and a Tony. In the early ‘90s, I heard him talk about the next in the series, The Piano Lesson, for which he won a second Pulitzer and the New York Drama Critics Award.
Wilson had the remarkable ability to make everything he said and wrote crackle with enthusiasm and life and any aspiring writer or actor who listened to his talks would always walk out fired up about writing or acting and ready to get busy trying to emulate what he had just shared. It was after hearing him that I wrote my one and only play, The First Day, following his advice, perhaps the best advice any writer could receive: First write what you know.
Wilson said his aim was to sketch the Black experience in the 20th century and "raise consciousness through theater.” He was fascinated by the power of theater as a medium where a community at large could come together to bear witness to events and currents unfolding. “I think my plays offer white Americans a different way to look at black Americans.”
“In creating plays," he said, "I often use the image of a stewing pot in which I toss various things that I’m going to make use of—a black cat, a garden, a bicycle, a man with a scar on his face, a pregnant woman, a man with a gun."
The results of course were as tasty as tasty can be.
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