Born on April 27, 1945, August Wilson grew up in the Hill
district of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His childhood experiences
in this black slum community would later inform his dramatic
writings, including his first produced play, Black Bart and
the Sacred Hills, which was staged in 1981.
Then, in 1984, August Wilson was catapulted to the forefront
of the American theatre scene with the success of Ma Rainey's
Black Bottom, produced at Yale and later in New York in 1984.
The play was voted Best Play of the Year (1984-85) by the New
York Drama Critics' Circle.
Wilson continued to work in close collaboration with Lloyd
Richards of the Yale School of Drama, and by early 1990's, had
established himself as the best known and most popular African-American
playwright. Wilson also set for himself a daunting task--to write
a ten play cycle that chronicles each decade of the black experience
in the 20th century. Each of Wilson's plays is a chapter in this
remarkable cycle of plays and focuses on what Wilson perceives
as the largest issue to confront African-Americans in that decade.
His second play, Fences--set in the 1950's--tells the
story of Troy Maxon, an illiterate garbage collector who has
become embittered by a white-controlled system that has denied
him the baseball stardom he feels he deserves. Fences
opened on Broadway in the spring of 1987 to enormous critical
acclaim and earned Wilson his first Pulitzer Prize.
In April of 1988, Joe Turner's Come and Gone opened
on Broadway, again to enormous critical acclaim. This play--which
documents the 1910's--tells the story of Harold Loomis, a black
man cruelly imprisoned for seven years by the white authorities
for an unknown offense. Finally free, Loomis sets out in search
of his wife Martha who he hasn't seen in ten years. Joe Turner's
Come and Gone was voted Best New Play of the Year by the
New York Drama Critics' Circle.
The Piano Lesson--set in 1930's--opens with the arrival
of Boy Willie at his sister Berniece's house. Willie dreams of
buying the same Mississippi land that his ancestors once worked
as slaves, but in order to raise the capital for this purchase,
he must convince his sister to part with a family heirloom, a
piano that is both a reminder of the family's enslaved past and
a tribute to their survival. The Piano Lesson was named
Best Play of the Year by the New York Drama Critics' Circle.
It also earned Wilson his 2nd Pulitzer Prize for Drama, as well
as a Drama Desk Award.
In April of 2005, Wilson finally completed his ten-play cycle when Radio Golf premiered at the Yale Repertory Theatre. Two months later, he was diagnosed with liver cancer. And on October 2, 2005, August Wilson passed away at the age of 60.
Wilson's other awards include the New York Drama Critics Circle
Award (1985, 1987, 1988), the Whiting Foundation Award (1986),
the American Theatre Critics Award (1986, 1989, 1991), the Outer
Circle Award (1987), the Drama Desk Award (1987), the John Gassner
Award (1987), the Tony Award (1987), the Helen Hayer Award (1988),
and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama (1987, 1990).