August Wilson: A Pittsburgh Gem

Tayde McDonald, Senior Writer

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One of Pittsburgh’s greatest triumphs is being the birthplace of its strongest playwright, August Wilson. In living in the Hill District, studying at the Carnegie Library, and writing in local cafés, Wilson colored Pittsburgh’s culture with his deep insight into the experience of being an African American in 20th century America.

Wilson put his mark on the city by writing The Pittsburgh Cycle: a series of ten plays (all set in Pittsburgh except one) centered around the lives of African Americans, each play taking place in a different decade. His works are tied to thematic elements such as racism, poverty, love, ancestry, and spiritualism. Living as a black man through half of the twentieth century and facing these trials made him wise and intelligent in injecting these ideas into his stories.

Wilson’s goal for all of his plays was to voice “the poetry in the everyday language of black America”. He was drawn to theatre as opposed to any other art form because it was a way for a community to be brought together to witness any event imaginable happening right in front of them. His work fits wonderfully with the strength of this medium. Since each of his plays are set in a different decade each, the audience gets to see different generations of African Americans and learn about their similarities and differences. The main emotional elements that tie his work together are “love, honor, beauty, betrayal, and duty”. Even reading only a handful of the cycle allows one to see how these themes are universal for all times in America, and were especially a strong part of African American history.

After his death, Wilson’s childhood home on Bedford Avenue was labeled a historic landmark, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Along with this, the Broadway Theatre, formally known as Virginia Theatre, was changed to hold Wilson’s name as a testament to his legacy. The junior class has just finished reading some of Wilson’s plays, and many have opted to do their final presentation on his work. It’s important to remember the weight his art had on American literature and on the city we reside in. There’s no doubt that his legacy shall continue to influence Obama’s literature curriculum and even our own theatre department for generations to come.

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