August Wilson Biography

(American Playwright Who was Refered to as the 'Theater's Poet of Black America)

Birthday: April 27, 1945 (Taurus)

Born In: Pittsburgh Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winning, critically acclaimed African-American playwright, August Wilson was one of the leading writers of the twentieth century, who highlighted the struggles of African-American community. A victim of racial discrimination himself, Wilson was terrified in his childhood as he experienced traumatic episodes of racism in school. Not only was he expelled from school for being the only African-American, he was threatened and abused to the point of being physically attacked as well. It were these experiences that left a deep impact on young Wilson, so much so that he started expressing his feelings through his writings. One of the first African-American men to enjoy success on Broadway, Wilson has played a crucial role in shaping the African-American movement and highlighting their sorrowful plight to people across the world. Some of his well-known plays include, ‘Jitney’, ‘Ma Rainey's Black Bottom’, ‘The Piano Lesson’, ‘Fences’, all of which are part of his acclaimed ten-play collection titled, ‘The Pittsburgh Cycle’. With such an extravagant history of writing, it is easy to conclude that August Wilson was undoubtedly one of the most influential writers of theatre in America.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Frederick August Kittel Jr.

Died At Age: 60


Spouse/Ex-: Brenda Burton (m.1969-1972), Constanza Romero (m.1994-2005), Judy Oliver (m.1981-1990)

father: Frederick August Kittel Sr.

mother: Daisy Wilson

siblings: Barbara Jean Wilson, Donna Conley, Edwin Kittel, Freda Ellis, Linda Jean Kittel, Richard Kittel

children: Azula Carmen Wilson, Sakina Ansari

Born Country: United States

Quotes By August Wilson Playwrights

Died on: October 2, 2005

place of death: Seattle, Washington, United States

U.S. State: Pennsylvania

Cause of Death: Liver Cancer

Ancestry: German American

More Facts

awards: 1985 - New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play
1987 - Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play
1987 - New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play

1988 - New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play
1990 - Governor's Awards for Excellence in the Arts and Distinguished Pennsylvania Artists
1990 - Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play
1990 - New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play
1990 - Pulitzer Prize for Drama
1992 - New York Drama Critics Circle Citation for Best American Play
1996 - New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play
2000 - New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play
2000 - Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Play
2002 - Olivier Award for Best new Play

  • 1

    What impact did August Wilson have on American theater?

    August Wilson had a significant impact on American theater by giving a voice to the African American experience through his powerful plays that explored themes of race, culture, and identity.
  • 2

    Why are August Wilson's plays often set in Pittsburgh?

    August Wilson often set his plays in Pittsburgh because it was where he grew up and he believed the city embodied the struggles and triumphs of the African American community.
  • 3

    What themes are commonly explored in August Wilson's work?

    August Wilson's work commonly explores themes such as the African American experience, generational trauma, the search for identity, and the impact of history on individuals and communities.
  • 4

    How did August Wilson's background influence his writing?

    August Wilson's background growing up in a working-class African American neighborhood heavily influenced his writing, providing him with firsthand experiences and insights that he incorporated into his plays.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born as Frederick August Kittel, Jr. in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Frederick August Kittel, Sr., a pastry chef and baker and Daisy Wilson, a cleaning woman of African descent.
His childhood was rather humble. He was raised by his mother in a two-room apartment located above a grocery store, while his father was mostly not present.
In the 1950’s, his mother divorced his father and remarried and the two relocated to a white inhabited neighbourhood, where they faced much hostility and racial discrimination.
Wilson attended the Central Catholic High School in Pennsylvania, where he was the only African-American student and was eventually thrown out. He later enrolled at the Connelley Vocational High School.
By the time he turned 16, he dropped out of school and began to take up many odd jobs. He self-educated himself by reading extensively at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.
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In 1971, one of his first pieces of writing titled, ‘Bessie’, which was a poem that was published in the summer of that year in the ‘Black Lines’, an African American publication.
In 1973, he staged one of his first plays, titled, ‘Recycling’, which he wrote after he learnt the art of writing for stage from a library book. He made his debut in the field of playwriting with this one-act play.
In the year 1980, he finished writing the play, ‘Fullerton Street’, which was based on the fight between boxers, Joe Louis and Billy Conn. The play, however, remained unproduced and unpublished.
In 1982, Wilson came out with the two-act play titled, ‘Jitney’, which premiered at the Allegheny Repertory Theatre in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The play later also went on off-Broadway in New York.
In 1982, he came out with the play titled, ‘Ma Rainey's Black Bottom’, which was part of the Pulitzer Prize winning ten play series, ‘Pittsburgh Cycle’. The play premiered at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center at Waterford, Connecticut.
In 1983, he came out with his play, Fenses’, which was the sixth part of his ‘Pittsburgh Cycle’ collection. The plot of the play revolved around African-American experiences and race relations.
In 1984, his play, ‘Joe Turner's Come and Gone’ premiered at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Connecticut. The play also opened on Broadway on March 27th that year.
‘The Piano Lesson’ premiered at the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut on November 26, 1987. This play was set in Pittsburgh during the time of the Great Depression.
In 1990, his wrote the drama titled, ‘Two Trains Running’, which was set in an African-American neighbourhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The play also premiered on Broadway.
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In 1996, his play, ‘Seven Guitars’ premiered at the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut. A tragic comedy, it highlighted the life of seven African-American characters.
On December 11, 1999 his play titled, ‘King Hedley II’ premiered at the Pittsburgh Public Theater in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The play ran on Broadway and off-Broadway.
In 2003, his play drama titled, ‘Gem of the Ocean’ was screened at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, IL. The play revolved around the experiences of African-American in the twentieth century.
In 2005, his play, ‘Radio Golf’ premiered at the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut. Two years later, the play also premiered on Broadway.
Major Works
His play ‘Jitney’ was the recipient of the Outer Critics Circle Award in the year 2001 in the category of ‘Outstanding Off-Broadway Play’. The play also received the Laurence Olivier Award for the category of ‘Best New Play’.
He is the author of the ten play collection titled, ‘The Pittsburgh Cycle’, which received two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama. Many theatres around the world have produced these ten plays, including the Denver Center for the Performing Arts and the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company.
Awards & Achievements
In 1985, he was the recipient of the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for the category of ‘Best Play’ for ‘Ma Rainey's Black Bottom’.
In 1987, he was the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for his play, ‘Fences’.
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In 1990, he received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play, ‘The Piano Lesson’.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1969, he married Brenda Burton, who was a Muslim. He also converted to the faith and the couple had a daughter together. Unfortunately the two divorced in 1972.
In 1981, he married social worker, Judy Oliver. They divorced in the year 1990.
In 1994, he married costume designer, Constanza Romero with whom he had a daughter.
He died at the age of 60, due to liver cancer at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle.
While his home has been turned into a historic landmark, several streets and theatres have been renamed post his death to honor this able and gifted playwright.
Facts About August Wilson
August Wilson's birth name was actually Frederick August Kittel Jr., but he changed it to August Wilson to honor his mother after she passed away.
Wilson insisted on writing his plays in longhand on yellow legal pads rather than using a computer or typewriter, believing that the physical act of writing helped him connect more deeply with his characters.
Despite achieving great success as a playwright, August Wilson also worked various odd jobs throughout his life, including a stint as a dishwasher and a gardener, to make ends meet and support his writing career.

August Wilson was known for his love of blues music, which heavily influenced the rhythm and language of his plays.

He often listened to blues music while writing to help set the tone for his work.
His commitment to amplifying the voices of marginalized communities continues to inspire and influence playwrights and artists today.

See the events in life of August Wilson in Chronological Order

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