August Wilson. Playwright. (Apr 27, 1945 - Oct 2, 2005)
Born in Pittsburgh, PA in 1945, Frederick August Kittel (August Wilson) wrote about the African American experience in the twentieth century in a series of ten plays. He won many awards, most notably, two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama (Fences and The Piano Lesson), a Tony Award for Best Play (Fences) and a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play (Jitney).
His father, Frederick August Kittel and his mother, Daisy Wilson, divorced when he was young, and he moved with his mother and family, to a working class neighborhood. He often visited the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, and was an avid reader of writers such as Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, and Langston Hughes.
After his father’s death in 1965, he changed his name to August Wilson, and started to submit his work to magazines. In 1968 he started the Black Horizon Theater with a friend, staging many of Amiri Baraka’s plays. Wilson both acted and directed.
"Someone had looked around and said, “Who’s going to be the director?” I said, “I will.” I said that because I knew my way around the library. So I went to look for a book on how to direct a play. I found one called The Fundamentals of Play Directing and checked it out." (Wilson)
He moved on to Minnesota in 1978 where he finished the play, Jitney, about a Pittsburgh taxi station. His later plays each explored the black experience in a different decade. The language of his plays capture the sounds and rhythms, the blues and the culture, of his youth in Pittsburgh. His controversial keynote address to the Theatre Communications Group was later published as “The Ground on Which I Stand” and discusses his philosophy and vision.
“I have come here today to make a testimony, to talk about the ground on which I stand and all the many grounds on which I and my ancestors have toiled, and the ground of theatre on which my fellow artists and I have labored to bring forth its fruits, its daring and its sometimes lacerating, and often healing, truths.” (Wilson)
After his death in 2005, the Virginia Theatre on Broadway was renamed the August Wilson Theatre in his honor.