The Legendary August Wilson of PittsburghAug 05, 2022 09:00AM ● By Kyrah Page
The August Wilson Center for African American Culture
“I think all in all, one thing a lot of plays seem to be saying is that we need to, as Black Americans, to make a connection with our past in order to determine the kind of future we're going to have. In other words, we simply need to know who we are in relation to our historical presence in America.” - August Wilson
Who was August Wilson? What is this building? For what is it used?... If you are not from Pittsburgh PA these questions may or may not be running through your head when you clicked on this article. I mentioned before that I am from Pittsburgh, and we have many pros and cons here. However, one thing we are always excited to see is when someone from the Black community makes us look great! In this article, I will answer those questions and tell you about a man who helped put Pittsburgh on the map.
Frederick August Kittel, known as August Wilson, was born April 27, 1945, in Pittsburgh PA. He died October 2, 2005, in Seattle, Washington. Wilson and his siblings were born by his Black mother, Daisy Wilson and his German American father, Frederick August Kittel. They lived in the Hill District, an urban community in Pittsburgh, until his father left them. Wilson attended St. Richard’s Parochial School until his mother remarried in 1958 to David Bedford. They moved to the suburbs where Wilson transferred to Central Catholic High School in 1959. Wilson struggled with many things in his life, including his racial identity, racism, and his schooling. Wilson was considered bi-racial, and he had a hard time identifying with both sides of himself even though his stepfather was also a Black man. While struggling with his racial identity he also battled discrimination.
Wilson grew up in the era of Jim Crow laws. According to britannica.com, “Wilson faced hostility and harassment that forced him to transfer to two other high schools during his freshman year.” He later ended up dropping out of school altogether after he was accused of plagiarism by a teacher in 1960 at the age of fifteen. Despite his complicated high school experience, he still liked learning, just not in a traditional way. He leaned more into self-education. He spent most of his time in the library, reading and on the streets of the Hill District attempting to learn from the culture of the community from which he was removed. Later in that decade he became the cofounder and director of Black Horizons Theater located in Pittsburgh as well as becoming engrossed in the Black Arts Movement. “The Black Arts Movement was a period of artistic and literary development among Black Americans in the 1960s and early ’70s,” according to britannica.com.
Wilson, then, stepped into his poetry and playwriting era. He first published poems in journals such as Black World and Black Lines in the early seventies. In the early eighties he began writing plays such as Jitney, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Fences, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Gem of the Ocean, Piano Lesson, and many others. Most of his plays were set in Pittsburgh in the Hill District where he grew up and he focused on Black life and the Black experience. His plays won him an abundance of awards. He won Pulitzer Prizes for two of his plays which were Fences and The Piano Lesson. Wilson’s Fences was made into a film in 2016 starring Viola Davis and Denzel Washington. Fences won a Tony Award. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was also made into a film in 2020, starring Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis and was produced by Denzel Washington. Wilson also received seven New York Drama Critics’ Circle Awards for best play.
Shortly after his death, Wilson was honored in a huge way – the opening of The August Wilson Center for African American Culture 2009. According to the center’s website, awaacc.org, “The August Wilson African American Cultural Center is a non-profit, multi-disciplinary arts center open to all. We are dedicated to the celebration of the African American journey and presenting its unique and extraordinary role in the creation of popular culture in America and beyond.”
If you ever wish to visit this center, below is all of their information!
Address: 980 Liberty Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Phone: (412) 339-1011
Kyrah Page is currently a student at Lincoln University. She is also the CEO and founder of her own brand called “Keepin’ It Kultured.” Where she combines art with activism to empower, inspire and educate the Black community. She advocates for change, promotes black positivity, and addresses controversial issues. Kyrah is many things but most importantly she is an activist.
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