NEW YORK, 9 October 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright August
Wilson, whose epic 10-play cycle chronicling the black experience in
20th-century America died on 2 October of liver cancer at Swedish Medical
Center in Seattle, the Associate Press reported. He was 60.
On 26 August 2005, he told his hometown newspaper, The
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, that he had been diagnosed with liver cancer
in June of 2005 and given 3 to 5 months to live because his illness was
inoperable. Wilson's plays each set in a different decade, depicted the
comedy and tragedy of the effects of slavery on succeeding generations of
Wilson's most famous plays are Fences (1985) (which won a
Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award), The Piano Lesson (1990) (a
Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award), Ma
Rainey's Black Bottom, and Joe Turner's Come and Gone.
Wilson put Pittsburgh and its Hill District on the map in that nine of the
ten-play cycle are set in Pittsburgh where he was born (1945) and
raised, the son of a German immigrant and an African American woman
from North Carolina.
In an appreciation published on 4 October, New York Times
drama critic Ben Brantley wrote:
People talk about an artist having an eye. But with playwrights, it's
the ear that counts. Mr. Wilson had a peerless pair. His writing comes
closer to the sweep of Shakespearean music than that of any of his
contemporaries. Edward Albee creates intense and elegant chamber pieces;
David Mamet, machine-gun jazz; Sam Shepard, rhapsodic plainsong; Harold
Pinter, monastic chants; and Tom Stoppard, jaunty concertos. But these
days only Mr. Wilson has written plays that sound like grand opera - and
it is no contradiction to say that it is opera rooted in the blues.
Mr. Wilson's majestic cycle of 10 plays of the African-American journey
through the 20th century, each set in a different decade, doesn't just
sound operatic. Even though his characters are almost all poor and
socially powerless, their stories bring to minds the gods of Wagner and
the doomed royalty of Verdi.
Post-Gazette Obituary and articles from the Post-Gazette
archives in seven categories, covering Wilson and his career.
Photo: August Wilson in 2001
Courtesy of Associated Press