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  • November 2009
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August Wilson Center Opens

       If you don’t know who August Wilson is, you need to. He’s the most notable  playwright ever born in Pittsburgh. His Pittsburgh cycle is a series of ten plays that captures the spirit and cadence of  African -American life  during each decade of the twentieth century.  And he’s the only person ever to  receive his high school diploma from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

According to Contemporary Authors on infotrac, “Wilson felt his real education began when he was 16.” Before he entered high school, he grew up  in a 2-room apartment in mixed race community in the Hill District where people accepted one another. But that ended when he, his mother and five siblings  moved to Hazlewood.

He entered Central Catholic High School in 1959 as the only African-American student in the prestigous school. He was left notes everyday that said something like ,”Go home, Nigger.” Large groups of  guys waited to fight  him after school and his principal often sent him home  on a taxi. What the principal didn’t know, Wilson has said, is those same guys waited for him in the mornings. “I got in a lot of fights, ” he said  in Conversations with August Wilson.

He left Central Catholic to study auto mechanics at Connelly School but that class was full so he ended up making tin cups in metal sheeting. Half the day was spent in classes at the fifth grade level. Feeling unchallenged, Wilson  transfered to Gladstone High School. 

When a teacher accused him of having his sisters write a  term paper he did on Napoleon, Wilson walked out. He spent the next  two weeks playing basketball outside the principal’s office. He later admitted he hoped someone would come out of the school to see why he was there. No one ever did.

Wilson began educating himself at the Carnegie Library.  He sent poems to black publications at the University of Pittsbugh which published them. Eventually he wrote plays that received a Pulitzer Prize, a Tony Award and more.

The reason I’m writing about August Wilson, other than his life makes a remarkable story, is because The August Wilson Center for African-American Culture recently opened and  several of his plays are being performed during this week and next.  Here’s the schedule: http://www.augustwilsoncenter.org/events/index.php

Although you can read his plays, I hightly recommend seeing them. They’re not to everyone’s liking but I love their poetry, their mystical, mythical spiritualism coupled with down-to-earth characters living in historical times.

If you want to read some August Wilson for yourself, here’s a few of his plays:

FencesFences set in 1997


 Jitney set in 1977

Piano Lesson




    The  Piano Lesson set in 1936

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