Acclaimed Playwright (04:08)
Hear thoughts about August Wilson and see a clip of a sitcom, a stage performance of "Fences," and a stage performance of "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." Wilson, born in 1945, wrote one play for each decade of a century about a specific group of people.
Wilson's Background (03:46)
Wilson and his sister Freda Ellis share memories of growing-up in the "lower hill" of the Hill District, Pittsburgh; they lived in the poorest house. Kimberly Ellis describes her grandmother Daisy Kittel. Wilson's father, Fred Kittel, had a drinking problem; the two did not have a good relationship. Boxer Charley Burley became a "surrogate" father.
Wilson's Education (02:33)
Wilson had a fascination with words and learned fast; racial conflict was part of his formative years. He recalls writing a paper on Napoleon and his teacher's disbelief. Wilson went to the library when he should have been at school; he "plotted" his education.
Community Life and Raising Consciousness (03:31)
Wilson observed the goings on in his neighborhood and listened to community elders at Pat's Place; Eddie Owens recalls Wilson writing in his restaurant. The Black Power Movement influenced young revolutionaries to participate in the arts. Wilson and Rob Penny started the Black Horizons Theater; Wilson recites a poem.
Wilson's Artistic Evolution (03:18)
Wilson began incorporating the voices of community elders into his work after he left Pittsburgh. While working at the Penumbra Theater, he wrote "Black Bart and the Sacred Hills." Wilson wrote in bars and restaurants.
Wilson decided to write a play set in a jitney station; it was the first time he listened to the dialogue instead of forcing it. Christopher Rawson reflects on the language of the play.
National Playwrights Conference (04:20)
Wilson and Claude Purdy discussed ways Wilson could be paid for his work, including submitting to the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center. The characters in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" came alive for Lloyd Richards. Amy Saltz recalls Wilson's passion; Charles Dutton describes his impression of Wilson before having seen him.
"Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" (03:29)
See a portion of the play. Wilson "mined" the cultural ideas and attitudes embodied in the blues; he listened to music on 78 records. Wilson wrote the characters in the play like instruments.
Eugene O'Neill Theater Center Success (02:53)
The first professional reading of "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" occurred in 1982. The play broke many of the theater center's "rules" and had an emotional impact on viewers. Criticism of the lack of a central character led Wilson to write "Fences."
See portions of the play. Harry Elam considers the character Troy and Wilson's depiction of the path of black male success. A good play requires a conflict of human emotion.
"Joe Turner's Come and Gone" (05:05)
"Mill Hand's Lunch Bucket" was the inspiration for the play's setting and the character of Herald Loomis. The elements of the play are rooted in history. Experts reflect on the play's spirituality and power. See portions of the play.
"The Piano Lesson" (04:52)
See clips from the television adaptation of the play and hear a description of the play. Dutton recalls learning Wilson wrote the play for him.
Living with a Playwright (03:23)
Constanza Romero recalls what it was like living with Wilson; learn the way he worked. Wilson discusses the first line of dialogue in "Two Trains Running"; see a clip.
"Two Trains Running" (02:52)
Laurence Fishburne discusses the concept of blackness in Wilson's play. This play takes place in a Pittsburgh restaurant in 1969; actors discuss the jukebox scene.
Director Lloyd Richards (02:40)
Wilson has only worked with one director, Richards; they share similar values, concerns, and rhythms. Actors reflect on Richards' style and ability to nurture talent.
Professional Bonds Break (02:47)
Dutton reflects on relationship changes during the Hallmark Hall of Fame production of "The Piano Lesson." Wilson's widow reflects on his need to find his own way. Lloyd shifted roles during the making of "Seven Guitars."
Women in Wilson's Plays (04:58)
Viola Davis recalls auditioning for "Seven Guitars." Wilson was conscious of his mother when writing female characters. See clips of "Seven Guitars," the television production of "The Piano Lesson," and "King Hedley II."
Wilson's Speech (04:06)
Hear portions of the speech in which Wilson discusses the need for theaters and the vitality of black theater. Robert Brustein criticized Wilson and his comments about "The Ground on Which it Stands." Dutton states that Wilson only opened his plays on Broadway.
Revival of "Jitney" (03:54)
Wilson will open the play at Crossroads Theater; the story has to do with legacy. See clips of the play. Marion McClinton reflects on the characters and the human spirit present in the play.
"Gem of the Ocean" (04:57)
Experts reflect on the 300-year-old character Aunt Ester and what she represents; see clips from the play. The play makes audience members think about the structure of realism and the meaning of the play.
Wilson's Illness (03:55)
Suzan-Lori Parks recalls preparing to interview Wilson and learning he was dying. Constanza Romero recalls his cancer diagnosis and determination to finish "Radio Golf"; Rev. Dwight Andrews would officiate at his funeral service.
Wilson's Death (04:26)
Hundreds of people attended Wilson's funeral service. Mourners went through a procession through the neighborhood Wilson grew-up in before arriving at the cemetery. Hear thoughts on his legacy.
Credits: August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand (01:22)
Credits: August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand
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