The Playwright


Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where most of his plays are set, AUGUST WILSON was largely self-educated, having dropped out of school in the ninth grade. Wilson’s parents were Frederick August Kittle, a white man who never lived with the family, and Daisy Wilson, a black woman. After leaving school, Wilson worked menial jobs. He educated himself in libraries and in town hangouts.

Wilson began writing plays in Pittsburgh, and then took a job in St. Paul writing dramatic skits for the Science Museum of Minnesota. While in Minneapolis, Wilson began to write using speech patterns and rhythms that were familiar to him from black neighborhoods of Pittsburgh. His writing was strongly influenced by music. 

While Jitney (1972) was the first play Wilson completed, he first gained critical attention with Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (1984). His plays centered on the struggles and identity of African Americans and draws heavily on his own experience growing up in the Hill district of Pittsburgh, which was a black ghetto.  His characters are ordinary people whose histories, frustrations, and aspirations he deftly explores.  Wilson passed away in October 2005 at the age of sixty.  He left behind his wife,  Constansa and their young daughter. 

He believed that African Americans need not assimilate into the dominant culture, but to contribute to that society to make it represent African Americans.