Broadway Features and Reviews
The Early Days of August Wilson
By Tara Puckey, Broadway Magazine
Broadway welcomes back August Wilson's Joe Turner's Come and Gone, which begins previews at the Belasco Theatre on March 19. The production, part of the 10 play series known as "The Pittsburgh Cycle", will be directed by award-winning director Bartlett Sher. A revival of the 1988 production, which received six nods from the Tony Awards, the storyline features Herald Loomis, a man on a journey North who stumbles upon a Pittsburgh boarding house in search of his identity as a free man.
Loomis' struggles with economic standing, racial clashes, and family drama ring familiar with the writer, August Wilson, whose own story is just as intriguing as his works. Born to an African American cleaning woman and German immigrant baker in 1945 as Frederick August Kittle, the family resided in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, an economically depressed area just outside the city. His father became estranged from the family and left his mother to raise August and his five siblings in a two-room apartment.
After leaving Central Catholic School, where he was ridiculed as the only African American student, Wilson attended two other schools before dropping out at age 15. His quest for knowledge continued, however, and in 1999 the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh awarded him the first and only high school diploma given by the establishment. Following a brief stint in the U.S. Army, Wilson pursued his dreams and purchased a typewriter for twenty dollars. He began writing poetry, joined the Centre Avenue Poets Theatre Workshop, and co-founded the Black Horizon Theatre in 1968.
In1978, Wilson moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, where he continued playwriting and wrote Jitney, which is considered his first real play. Success continued to follow him and by 1982 Jitney was staged by the Allegheny Repertory Theatre in Pittsburgh. Another play, Ma Rainey premiered at Yale Repertory Theatre in 1984 and was immediately whisked off to Broadway, rewarding Wilson with his first New York Drama Critics Circle Best Play Award.
This amazing playwright was awarded two Pulitzer Prizes, a Tony Award, and countless others. After his death in 2005, the Virginia Theatre in New York City was renamed the August Wilson Theatre. The following year, Pittsburgh announced the naming of the August Wilson Center for African American Culture. August Wilson's legacy of writing left a century of Pittsburgh tales to be enjoyed, even in New York City.
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