August Wilson

Scribes and songsmiths

Eugene O’Neill was the first American playwright to win the Nobel Prize in literature, in 1936. Poet-turned-playwright Wilson may be the second. His 10-cycle work chronicles the 20th-century experience of African-Americans, decade by decade; in the contempo theater, it is unparalleled in its vision. From “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” to “Gem of the Ocean,” the plays are short on plot, long on lyricism. Most take place in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, where Wilson was born in 1945. He dropped out of high school, outraged by a teacher’s accusation of plagiarism, and educated himself at the local library. Pulitzers were awarded to “Fences” and “The Piano Lesson.”

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