Famed playwright August Wilson , a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania lived from April 1945 to October 2005. He left behind, not only a legacy of progress, but changed the way Black theatre was being presented. As a youth, Wilson’s mother wanted him to attend law school but he opted for the army instead. After a one year stint in the armed forces Wilson left and worked odd jobs to support himself. With no formal education he embarked on the journey of becoming a writer, starting with poetry and then moving into plays. His career spanned multiple decades and he changed theatre performance all across the nation. In 1987 and 1990 he won the Pulitzer prize for drama for Fences and The Piano Lesson, respectively. Fences also took home the Tony Award for Best Play in that year.
One of August Wilson ‘s greatest contributions is the “Century (or Pittsburgh) Cycle”. Wilson gave us plays that not only span a generation of African American experience but spoke in the vernacular of the blacks of the era in which each play was set. He is known to cite the 4B’s as his inspiration: the playwright Amiri Baraka, the painter Romare Bearden, the poet Jorge Luis Borges, and, of course, Blues music.
Once when August Wilson was asked about his writing process he had this to say:
“I once wrote this short story called ‘The Best Blues Singer in the World,’ and it went like this— “The streets that Balboa walked were his own private ocean, and Balboa was drowning.” End of story. That says it all. Nothing else to say. I’ve been rewriting that same story over and over again. All my plays are rewriting that same story.”
The August Wilson Center for African American Culture opened in 2009 in Pittsburgh. The center was created to make a space for African American cultural exhibitions in the city’s downtown area. The space featured multiple performance areas, gallery, cafe, book shop, and many more places dedicated to bolstering the African American dialogue in the present culture. Unfortunately, the center has had a hard time financially. They officially filed a federal bankruptcy and were purchased by Dollar bank in November of 2014. Dollar Bank then sold the space to a consortium non-profit organizations with a price tag of $7.9 million. These agencies hope to preserve the legacy of this center and allow them to continue to not only do good works, but be a presence in the community.