Want to Learn More About August Wilson? Start Here

august-wilson

August Wilson

Welcome, August Wilson Monologue Competition students! Whether this is your first experience with August Wilson, or you’re already familiar with the playwright and his groundbreaking work, there’s always more to learn about Wilson’s life, process, influences, and place in theatre history.

Follow this guide to discover the artists who shaped Wilson’s voice, how Wilson created his one-of-a-kind characters, what critics think of his plays, and more.

Read on for his crash course on “all things August:”

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The American Century Cycle

The best place to start for those new to August Wilson is The American Century Cycle. Also known as The Pittsburgh Cycle, Wilson’s series of ten plays depicts African-American life during each decade of the 20th century. All of the plays within the Cycle (and the the complete set) are available online, at major bookstores, and your local library:august_wilson_200-1fd80773ac3517ccf843ca2a56c60a855e7c1e32

  • Jitney
  • Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  • Fences
  • Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
  • The Piano Lesson
  • Two Trains Running
  • Seven Guitars
  • King Hedley II
  • Gem of the Ocean
  • Radio Golf

After the plays, check out these three sources where Wilson talks about his work:

  • Jackson Bryer, Conversations With August Wilson 
  • August Wilson, The Ground Upon Which I Stand available for free online
  • August Wilson, Three Plays

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Critical Studies of Wilson’s Work

  • Christopher Bigsby, The Cambridge Companion to August Wilson
  • Harold Bloom, Bloom’s Modern Critical Views: August Wilson
  • Mary Bogumil, Understanding August Wilson
  • Keith Clark, Black Manhood in James Baldwin, Ernest J. Gaines, and August Wilson
  • Harry Elam, The Past as Present in the Drama of August Wilson
  • Marilyn Elkins, August Wilson: A Casebook
  • Laurence Glasco, August Wilson: Pittsburgh Places in His Life and Plays
  • Joan Herrington, I Ain’t Sorry for Nothin’ I Done: August Wilson’s Process of Playwriting
  • Shamal Hussein, The Image of Man in Selected Plays of August Wilson
  • Alan Nadel, May All Your Fences Have Gates: Essays on the Drama of August Wilson
  • Alan Nadel, August Wilson: Completing the Twentieth-Century Cycle
  • Kim Pereira, August Wilson and the African-American Odyssey
  • Sandra Shannon, The Dramatic Vision of August Wilson
  • Mary Ellen Snodgrass, August Wilson: A Literary Companion
  • Dana Williams, August Wilson and Black Aesthetics

Adaptations

  • The Piano Lesson, 1995 film starring Charles Dutton, Alfre Woodard, and Courtney Vance

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The 4 B’s

250px-AugustwilsontheatreIn many interviews and prefaces, Wilson refers to the influence of the “4 B’s” on his work: the blues (especially as sung by Bessie Smith, “The Empress of the Blues”); the writing of Amiri Baraka and Jorge Luis Borges; and the paintings of Romare Bearden. Sometimes the list is expanded to six by adding the work of James Baldwin and Ed Bullins.

Selected Works and Resources

James Baldwin:

  • Notes of a Native Son
  • Nobody Knows My Name
  • The Fire Next Time

Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones):

  • Dutchman
  • The Slave
  • Slave Ship
  • The System of Dante’s Hell 
  • Blues People
  • Home                               
  • Black Magic Poetry
  • Black Music
  • Black Fire
  • Four Black Revolutionary Plays

Romare Bearden:

  • A History of African-American Artists
  • Mary Campbell, Memory and Metaphor: The Art of Romare Bearden 1940-1987
  • Mary Corlett, From Process to Print: Graphic Works by Romare Bearden
  • Ruth Fine, The Art of Romare Bearden
  • Ruth Fine, Romare Bearden: American Modernist
  • Carla Hanzal, Romare Bearden: Southern Recollections
  • Robert O’Meally, Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey
  • Richard Powell, Conjuring Bearden
  • Sally Price, Romare Bearden: The Caribbean
  • Romare Bearden Foundation, Romare Bearden in the Modernist Tradition
  • Myron Schwartzman, Romare Bearden: His Life and Art
  • Frank Stewart, Romare Bearden
  • M. Bunch Washington, The Art of Romare Bearden: The Prevalence of Ritual

Jorge Luis Borges:

  • Ficciones
  • Labyrinths

Ed Bullins:

  • Five Plays
  • New Plays From the Black Theatre
  • The Duplex
  • Four Dynamite Plays
  • The Theme Is Blackness
  • The Hungered One

Bessie Smith:

  • The Complete Columbia Recordings

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savory_crop2This list of resources was provided by Pancho Savery, professor of English & Humanities at Reed College. Prof. Savery has taught Wilson’s American Century Cycle to students for more than eighteen years, and is one of Oregon’s foremost scholars of African-American literature.