August Wilson

Feb. 20, 2005, midnight | By Danielle Foster | 19 years, 1 month ago

August Wilson, born Frederick August Kittel, is a renowned playwright and poet whose most famous works include "Fences" (1987), "The Piano Lesson" (1990) and "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" (1984). During his career, Wilson has earned various honors including two Pulitzer Prizes, the American Theater Critics Award, 23 honorary degrees, a Tony Award and the New York Drama Critics Circles Awards.Born on April 27, 1945 in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, Wilson was the fourth child in a family of six. He always loved to read and was at the top of his class, but when he was 15, his teacher accused him of plagiarism, refusing to believe Wilson could write an exceptionally well-written paper. He became fed up with the racism that infiltrated his education and consequently dropped out of school. Instead, he educated himself and regularly spent time in the "Negro" section of the public library. He loved the powerful language of various authors such as Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright and Langston Hughes and was determined to become a writer as well. Often, Wilson would use people he knew as the basis for his literary characters.

Later in his teenage years, Wilson had a stepfather, David Bedford, who became the basis for Wilson's protagonist in "Fences;" the character is an ex-convict who could not receive a football scholarship to college because of his race. When Wilson reached his twenties, he severed all ties with his biological father changing his last name to his mother's name, Wilson.

His mother wanted Wilson to become a lawyer, but he kept working odd jobs with the intent of being a writer later on in his career. She was upset about his decisions and kicked him out of the house, forcing Wilson to join the army. He was discharged after a year, however, and his career as a writer was set in stone soon after he bought a used typewriter with money his sister lent him.

Wilson submerged himself in the writings of other African Americans and finally found his own literary voice when he moved to Minnesota. His first work, "Jitney," won him a $200 per month fellowship with the Minnesota Playwrights Center. His success with this piece and the subsequent play "Fullerton Street" therefore convinced Wilson that his writing career was worthwhile so he quit his scriptwriting job with the Science Museum of Minnesota. During this time, Wilson received most of his financial support from his second wife, Judy Oliver.

Further success came with the play "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" and the support of director Lloyd Richards. The play, which is one of Wilson's many to be honored for its ability to show how racism can affect its victims, opened on Broadway in 1984 at the Cort Theater. The respect Wilson earned as a writer grew even more later on when he published "Fences." Wilson won many awards, including his first Pulitzer Prize, and the play was put on Broadway in 1987, an even greater feat. Another of his great achievements came in 1990 with the publishing of "The Piano Lesson." With this play, Wilson became the second playwright to receive the Pulitzer Prize at least twice.

Wilson continues to write and to this day is recognized for his skill. As recently as November 2004, Wilson completed another play "Gem of the Ocean," which also opened on Broadway.

Information has been compiled from the Thomson Gale web site.

Last updated: May 4, 2021, 11:11 a.m.

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Danielle Foster. Danielle is a senior and all she can say is "it's about time". Now 17, driving, and close to completing the Communication Arts Program, she is ready to graduate on June second. This is her last year at Blair though, and she plans to make … More »

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