August Wilson | Influential and Black

August Wilson was a renowned African American playwright who left an indelible mark on American theater. His powerful works explored the African American experience, capturing the struggles, triumphs, and complexities of Black life in America. Wilson's plays continue to resonate with audiences today, and his legacy as one of the greatest playwrights of the 20th century endures.

Early Life and Career

August Wilson was born Frederick August Kittel Jr. on April 27, 1945, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Growing up in a predominantly Black neighborhood, Wilson experienced firsthand the challenges and injustices faced by the African American community. Despite dropping out of high school, Wilson was a voracious reader and self-taught playwright.

In the late 1960s, Wilson moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, where he began writing plays and immersing himself in the local theater scene. It was during this time that he changed his name to August Wilson, a name that would become synonymous with excellence in American theater.

The Pittsburgh Cycle

August Wilson's most notable achievement is his ten-play series known as the Pittsburgh Cycle or Century Cycle. Each play is set in a different decade of the 20th century and explores the Black experience in Pittsburgh's Hill District, where Wilson grew up. The Pittsburgh Cycle is a monumental achievement that chronicles the African American journey through the 20th century.

The first play in the cycle, "Gem of the Ocean," premiered in 2003, while the final play, "Radio Golf," debuted in 2005. The Pittsburgh Cycle garnered critical acclaim and numerous awards, including Pulitzer Prizes for "Fences" and "The Piano Lesson."

Books, Movies, and Documentaries

August Wilson's plays have been adapted into books, movies, and documentaries, further cementing his impact on American culture. These adaptations allow a wider audience to experience the power and beauty of Wilson's words.

Some notable adaptations include:

1. "Fences" (2016)

Directed by Denzel Washington, "Fences" is a film adaptation of Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name. The movie stars Washington and Viola Davis, both of whom received critical acclaim for their performances. "Fences" was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

2. "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" (2020)

Based on Wilson's play of the same name, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" is a film that explores the exploitation of Black artists in the music industry. The movie features powerhouse performances by Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman, earning critical acclaim and multiple award nominations.

3. "August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand" (2015)

This documentary provides an in-depth look at August Wilson's life and work. It features interviews with Wilson himself, as well as actors, directors, and scholars who discuss the impact of his plays on American theater. "August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand" offers valuable insights into the mind of a literary genius.

Legacy and Impact

August Wilson's contributions to American theater cannot be overstated. His plays continue to be performed and studied in theaters and educational institutions around the world. Wilson's work has opened doors for Black playwrights and artists, paving the way for greater representation and diversity in the theater industry.

Furthermore, Wilson's exploration of the African American experience has helped foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of Black culture. His plays tackle important themes such as race, identity, family, and the pursuit of the American Dream, resonating with audiences of all backgrounds.


August Wilson's life and work are a testament to the power of storytelling and the enduring impact of art. Through his plays, Wilson gave a voice to the voiceless and shed light on the Black experience in America. His legacy lives on, inspiring future generations of playwrights and artists to tell their own stories and shape the cultural landscape.

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.