About August Wilson
August Wilson was an American playwright best known for his extraordinary cycle of 10 plays that chronicle the 20th century African-American experience. All but one of Wilson’s masterful plays are set in the Hill District, the working-class neighborhood of his birth in 1945. Each play is set in a different decade and collectively became known as the American Century Cycle. “Put them all together,” Wilson once said, “and you have a history.”
August Wilson never formally studied theater. In fact, he dropped out of high school after being accused of plagiarism. He often explained that he instead got his education from the four B’s: the blues, the art of painter Romare Bearden, the writing of poet Amiri Baraka and writer/poet Jorge Luis Borges. “The foundation of my playwriting is poetry,” Wilson once said.
All of Wilson’s 10 play cycle have been produced on Broadway, two of which have won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama (Fences, 1987 and The Piano Lesson, 1990). Actors and directors that include Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Laurence Fishburne, Mary Alice, Delroy Lindo, Leslie Uggams, Ruben Santiago Hudson and Lloyd Richards, were either nominated or won Tony Awards for their work in Wilson’s sagas. Two of Wilson’s plays, Fences and Ma’ Rainey’s Black Bottom, have been developed into movies, each garnering numerous awards and honors.
Following Wilson’s death in 2005, the Virginia Theatre in New York City’s Broadway Theater District was renamed the August Wilson Theatre. It is the first Broadway theatre to bear the name of an African-American.
August Wilson: The Writer’s Landscape
August Wilson: The Writer’s Landscape, the first-ever exhibition dedicated to the life and works of the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, will open in spring 2022. The permanent exhibition will explore the people and places of Pittsburgh, where Wilson was born and raised, and which had a profound impact on shaping his worldview.Explore Exhibit
August Wilson’s Legacy
“What made Wilson such an Olympian figure was that he could fit the whole country in an office or a backyard and make the bigness of his ideas seem life-size.”Wesley Morris, New York Times Theater Critic
“I was first introduced to August Wilson in the 80s when Charles Dutton did Ma Rainey and James Earl Jones and Courtney Vance did Fences. I've long considered August Wilson to be one of the five greatest playwrights in American history.”Denzel Washington, actor, director, and film producer
“It’s August’s language—the rhythm of hurt, the rhythm of pain, the rhythm of ecstasy, the rhythm of family—which sets him apart and is why we call him the heavyweight champion.”Marion McClinton, director
“Wilson had the ability to limn the divine from the commonplace and to draw inspiration from and illuminate the ordinary in a manner that simultaneously revealed, celebrated, and transcended the essence of the subject. His characters were common folk, by turns mercenary and compassionate, alive with laughter and sorrow, full of hope and choked with despair— simply human.”Lawrence Fishburne, actor
“I can’t think of another American dramatist since Tennessee Williams who writes with the generous lyricism of Wilson. It’s almost as much like the tragedies of ancient Greece as it is like Shakespeare, or perhaps grand opera, even though the characters belong to another social stratum, altogether, from the usual aristocrats of Verdi. Wilson found the divine in the down home.”Ben Brantley, former New York Times Theater Critic
“Wilson did not simply leave a hole in the American theater, but a huge yawning wound, one that will have to wait to be stitched closed by some expansive, poetic dramatist yet to emerge.”Peter Marks, Washington Post Theater Critic
“Having the opportunity to explore Wilson’ creative process and his tenacity in looking at the African-American experience in the 20th century was one of the most exciting endeavors I have ever had in my film career.”Sam Pollard, filmmaker
“August, while seeking out all the beauty, the struggle, the truths and wisdoms in African American Culture mined the larger themes that make us all human. How can we ever forget the powerful poetry in his plays depicting love, honor, duty, betrayal, forgiveness…?”Costanza Romero, artist and wife of August Wilson
“My mother took me to see The Piano Lesson at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival when I was in high school. I didn’t know people could do that onstage: talk the way people I knew talked, face the same issues that people in my community faced.”Andre Holland, actor