By: Gregory Waits, Jr.
Generally, cocktailmolly does not like to do articles on people who are – or were during their lifetime – famous, but this dedication to August Wilson is a must. Especially, when I found myself trekking through his old stomping ground of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania a few weeks ago. I had to see the dwellings of the man who represented the quintessential ideals of the American Dream; rising from social and economic hardships to elevate to a major force within the American Theatre scene.
I must admit that when driving up the hilly street of Bedford Avenue that I was a bit surprised to see that his home was a zombie property with newly developed modern styled row homes across the street. Doing some research I was pleased to learn that his home was placed on the national registry and set to undergo restoration (http://www.post-gazette.com/local/city/2013/05/28/August-Wilson-s-childhood-Pittsburgh-home-joins-National-Register/stories/201305280119).
Most people when speaking on their admiration of him and his work are quick to point to his numerous awards, most notably the two Pulitzer’s. While I am an admirer of his plays, I was equally drawn to his ability to strike out independently when he felt the establishment denied him an opportunity. When he felt the need to drop out of high school because of the ugliness of racial hostilities that occurred during those times and a teacher misconstruing his intelligence for plagiarism in a term paper, he did not forgo on educating himself but went to the local library everyday and continued to read. (Wolfe 2-3) When he believed that there should be a venue for black dramatists and their mission to promote black awareness, he and a friend Rob Penny founded the Pittsburgh’s Black Horizons Theatre. (3) When he wanted a black director for the film adaptation of his play Fences and Hollywood refused he passed on the movie deal and went back to Seattle and penned an essay and op-ed piece for the NY Times explaining his decision.( http://blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact/when-august-wilson-insisted-on-a-black-director-for-a-hollywood-adaptation-of-fences-20140804).
My reason for celebrating the life of August Wilson is not just because of his works – which I do love – but for his spirited determination to achieve his artistic visions in spite of the odds set against him. His story can be easily substituted with someone of an opposite race, gender, and sexuality and would be no less potent and rich. However, that is not the point to be made here. The message in his story is to never makes excuses, but find a way.
Born April 27, 1945 as Frederick August Kittel, Jr, the fourth child of six children to Frederick Kittel, Sr., a Sudeten-German baker and Daisy Wilson, an African-American cleaning woman. Shortly after his mother and father separated she moved the family to the Hills District in Pittsburgh on Bedford Avenue where she eventually met and married David Bedford.
As Wilson, took to writing he would change his name to August Wilson. He is most noted for his Pittsburgh Cycle, a series of ten plays chronicling the African-American experience in America throughout the 20th Century. He was married three times and had two daughters. He died of liver cancer on October 2, 2005.
On April 27, 2005, I ask everyone to join with me in celebrating the birthday of a legend of the theatre.
1. Jones, Diana Nelson. http://www.post-gazette.com/local/city/2013/05/28/August-Wilson-s-childhood-Pittsburgh-home-joins-National-Register/stories/201305280119. August Wilson’s childhood Pittsburgh home joins National Register:Playwright’s house on Bedford Avenue dates to 1840s. May 28, 2013.
2. Obenson, Tambay A. http://blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact/when-august-wilson-insisted-on-a-black-director-for-a-hollywood-adaptation-of-fences-20140804. When August Wilson Insisted on a Black Director for a Hollywood Adaptation of ‘Fences’. August 4, 2014.
3. Wolfe, Peter. August Wilson. Twayne Publishers. New York. 1999.