Last year as part of CMC’s recognition of Black History Month, we learned about Horace Julian Bond, a civil rights activist and political leader. To continue exploring Black history we highlight August Wilson a highly acclaimed playwright, poet and champion of the human condition.
Born Frederick August Kittel in 1945, August Wilson and his six siblings were raised by their mother, Daisy Wilson, a Pittsburgh cleaning woman. His father, a German immigrant and baker, Frederick Kittel, left the family when Wilson was young.
Wilson’s plays are celebrated for their powerful storytelling, rich characters and exploration of themes such as racism, identity and the African American experience in the United States. He is best known for a series of 10 plays, called The Pittsburgh Cycle, which chronicle the heritage and experiences in the Hill District, an African American Pittsburgh community throughout the century.
Each play takes place in a different decade. Wilson did this to “sketch the Black experience and raise consciousness through theater.” Wilson chose to feature strong female characters, he said because “my mother’s a very strong, principled woman. My female characters come in a large part from my mother.”
Wilson’s most famous work is the play Fences. The play was adapted into a 2016 film featuring Viola Davis and Denzel Washington. Davis, who won an Academy Award for her role, said of Wilson, “we have to stop thinking about diversity and start thinking about inclusion. That’s what you can take from August Wilson. There are whole cultures out there living experiences exactly like yours, and their stories are just as dynamic.” Fences won Wilson a Pulitzer Prize in 1987.
August Wilson passed away in 2005, but his work lives on. We’ve included a link to Ford Theater’s page dedicated to August Wilson’s Century Cycle if you are interested in learning more or watching the plays of August Wilson.