Born Frederick August Kittel, Jr in Pittsburgh in 1945, as the fourth of seven children, August Wilson grew up in the impoverished Bedford Avenue area of the city. The family moved from there when his mother re-married and Wilson attended school; he dropped out at 16 and focussed on working in menial jobs while fostering his burgeoning love of the written word with trips to the Carnegie Library. Reading the works of Langston Hughes and Ralph Ellison embedded a desire within the teenage Wilson to become a writer, though his mother wanted him to pursue a career in law. Disagreements over this decision led to Wilson leaving the family home and he intended to spend three years in the army, but he left after a year and returned to Pittsburgh to work in various jobs.
After his father’s death in 1965, Frederick Kittel Jr became August Wilson, a decision made to honour his mother. The late sixties saw Wilson become heavily influenced by Malcolm X and the Blues and he converted to Islam to ensure the survival of his marriage to Brenda Burton (1969). A year earlier Wilson set up the Black Horizon Theater with Rob Penny where his first plays, Recycling and Jitney, were performed.
Wilson’s first marriage was divorced in 1972 and in 1976 Sizwe Banzi is Dead – his first professional play – was performed at the Pittsburgh Public Theater. Two years later the budding playwright moved to St Paul, Minnesota where worked writing educational scripts for Science Museum of Minnesota. The Playwrights’ Center in Minnesota awarded him a fellowship in 1980 and he left his job a year later; he continued writing plays while working as a chef for the Little Brothers of the Poor.
In Minnesota Wilson built a strong relationship with the Penumbra Theatre Company which produced many of his plays in the eighties and in 1987 the city named May 25th August Wilson day after his Pulitzer Prize award in the same year. Wilson left St Paul for Seattle in 1990, following the divorce of his second marriage to Judy Oliver, and while there the Seattle Repertory Theatre performed a number of his plays.
In 1995 Wilson received one his many honorary degrees from the University of Pittsburgh where he became a Doctor of Humanities and was a member of the Board of Trustees. He married again in 1994 to Constanza Romero and eleven years on in 2005 was diagnosed with liver cancer. In October, he passed away.
Recycle - 1973
Black Bart and the Sacred Hills - 1977
Fullerton Street - 1980
Jitney - 1982
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom - 1984
Fences - 1987
Joe Turner's Come and Gone - 1988
The Homecoming - 1989
The Coldest Day of the Year - 1989
The Piano Lesson - 1990
Two Trains Running - 1991
Seven Guitars - 1995
King Hedley II - 1999
Gem of the Ocean - 2003
How I Learned What I Learned - 2003
Radio Golf - 2005
New York City
On October 16, 2005, only 14 days after Wilson's death, the Virginia Theatre in New York's Broadway theatre district was renamed the August Wilson Theatre. This is the first Broadway theatre to bear the name of an African-American.
Currently showing the smash hit musical - Jersey Boys!
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