Sunday, October 02, 2005

R.I.P. August Wilson

August Wilson died today at age 60, the premature victim of a rapidly advancing cancer of the liver. Wilson's health has been in severe decline over recent weeks, bringing much sadness to the American theater community and quietly extinguishing plans for his one-man show, a live memoir of the writer's life, which would have opened this season at the Signature Theatre.

What Wilson leaves behind, and it's a formidable bequeathal, are his wonderful plays. The cover art I have reproduced above represent my favorites among Wilson's famous 10-play cycle, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, Two Trains Running, and Seven Guitars, which works better than any of the plays, I think, as a summary of Wilson's poetics and themes. These three are closest to my heart, though Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and King Hedley II are strong stuff, and what works in his two Pulitzer Prize-winners, Fences and The Piano Lesson, works really well, despite my reservations about those plays. Soon enough, last year's Gem of the Ocean will become available from a publisher, and hopefully Radio Golf will see the light of day on Broadway, even though Wilson was always more of a critical fixture than a popular favorite.

A contentious and sometimes intractable figure, he was also creative and determined in seeing his ideas through to an American stage that badly needed him, and continues to need him. When I teach my seminar in African-American drama this spring semester, Wilson will loom large alongside Joseph Cotter, Marita Bonner, James Baldwin, Adrienne Kennedy, Suzan-Lori Parks, Charles Gordone/OyamO, Ed Bullins, Lorraine Hansberry, and so many other participants in one of the American theater's proudest and most under-sung traditions. Thanks to August for enriching the repertoire so deeply; you will be missed.

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Blogger keep showing up said...

thank you for the moving obit to august wilson, whose play - either 'two trains running' or 'joe turner's come and gone' represents the first af-am theater i've ever saw staged. (i'm pretty sure i saw 'two trains' at the mccarter theater. i'm deliriously sleep deprived at the moment, trying to recuperate chapter TWO which is DUE 2-Day!] i'm feeling somewhat cranky about the recurrent obit stock phrase 'wilson documented THE african american experience,' when much as i've learned much and admire his black everyman, everfamily tales that incorporate af-am historical themes like the great migration, blues, jazz spaces, black male incarceration, thwarted entrepreneurial endeavors, job discrimination, etc... his points of reference like memphis, pittsburg, may have referred to *some* points on the black metropolis but certainly not all.

also didn't know that he changed his name from frederick kittel to august wilson, after the death of his german father. just so much i didn't know.

so yes, went to bed feeling way sad about loss of af-am literary icon, then woke up to MORE american craziness, pushing me to increased despair. nick, care to write a blog entry called

R.I.P. U.S Supreme Court.
Is Helen Mier's nomination a joke?
Why oh why does LACK of experience make Bush nominees so qualified for these hand-picked jobs that the U.S. citizenry depend on. As if Michael Brown's lack of experience to head FEMA were not disastrous enough a nepotistic loyalty choice gone awry, his majesty or CEO in Chief has done gone done it again: Picked a Supreme Court Justice nominee to serve as on the HIGHEST court of the land, and she's never been a judge before?!?!

Where are the Wilsonian Fences when you need them? And to bring this rambling entry back to Wilson, I certainly wish he'd lived long enough to produce a parallel 10 cycle play on Anglo-American experiences in the 20th century. And I don't suggest that now just because I now know his father's of white germanic descent. I'd really just have liked Wilson's take on all these white-collar, working class and middle class income American dreams.

How Bout this for a Subtitle: RIP U.S. Supreme Court: Aren't You Miered?

:-/ srr

7:01 AM, October 03, 2005  
Blogger keep showing up said...

i'm on the other side of a messy incomplete post-chapter 2 submission, but gosh darn it, #2 flew , as well it should.

just wanted to apologize for ranting so hard on your website; i know you welcome freedom of expression, but i sometimes feel the guilt of dumping my trash-talk and fury on someone else's pretty yard. and so, just wanted to say, that i'll wait to see what ms. miers has to offer (although, you do understand the origins of anger that 'qualifications" "references" and 'prior experience' shut most low-wage workers of any color out of management jobs [fyi: i'm *finally* reading ehrenreich's _nickle and dimed_ 3 years after its best-selling run.] like nasty cement brickse like twin brick gates barring mighty guilty for ranting so hard on *your* website.

so when august wilson dies, a champion of such recurrent themes as african americans despair over securing stable jobs for lack of cultural capital, friends in the right places, and qualified experience, and the A.P, Reuters, BBC, CNN, and NYTimes mention Meirs' lack of experience as an actual judge, i feel palpable anger at the blatant class and racial disparities in the murky web of American employment. And I think August Wilson could give voice to shock, confusions, 'no fair!' coming to the surface.


i've assigned "rize" as an extra-credit film viewing for my class, so that i'd have to see the movie. i will. tonight.

5:40 PM, October 03, 2005  
Blogger summer of sam said...

word up. this made me sad.

8:18 PM, October 03, 2005  

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