Famous Pittsburghers, Playwright August Wilson
“YOU CAN’T WRITE PLAYS WITHOUT KNOWING THE CRAFT OF PLAYWRITING. ONCE YOU HAVE YOUR TOOLS, THEN YOU STILL GOTTA CREATE OUT OF THAT THING, THAT IMPULSE.”
Wilson wrote scathingly about racism, yes, in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," and the indelible scars of slavery, in "The Piano Lesson" and "Gem of the Ocean." He also wrote about the Oedipal conflict of fathers and sons ("Fences") and the universal quest for the easy score ("Two Trains Running"). His concerns were as multifaceted as the hard-pressed people he wrote about.
Born Frederick August Kittel in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania—in an impoverished neighborhood known as the Hill—the playwright was one of six siblings. Dropping out of high school after a teacher’s racist accusation that he had plagiarized a paper, Wilson soon became a poet under the inspirational aegis of Dylan Thomas and Amiri Baraka. He began writing plays in the 1970s after a brief stint with the Black Horizons Theatre. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom caught the attention of Yale Drama School’s Dean Lloyd Richards in 1982, which led Wilson to the Great White Way. He swiftly kicked its ass: the playwright has been awarded Pulitzer Prizes and Tony Awards for both Fences (1987) and The Piano Lesson (1988).