August Wilson, American playwright, Died at 60


August Wilson died on the 2nd of October 2005 at the age of 60, he was an American playwright whose work included a series of ten plays, The Pittsburgh Cycle, for which he received two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama.

Born Frederick August Kittel, Jr. in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the fourth of six children, to Sudeten-German immigrant baker/pastry cook, Frederick August Kittel, Sr. and Daisy Wilson, an African-American cleaning woman, from North Carolina.

Wilson’s mother raised the children alone until he was five in a two-room apartment above a grocery store at 1727 Bedford Avenue; his father was mostly absent from his childhood.

Wilson would go on to write under his mother’s surname. In 1959 Wilson was the only African-American student at the Central Catholic High School, where he was soon driven away by threats and abuse.

He then attended Connelley Vocational High School, but found the curriculum unchallenging.

He dropped out of Gladstone High School in the 10th grade in 1960 after his teacher accused him of plagiarizing a 20-page paper he wrote on Napoleon I of France.

Wilson hid his decision from his mother because he did not want to disappoint her.

At the age of 16, he began working menial jobs and that allowed him to meet a wide variety of people, on some of whom he later based his characters, such as Sam in The Janitor (1985).

Frederick August Kittel, Jr. changed his name to August Wilson to honor his mother after his father’s death in 1965.

That same year he discovered the blues as sung by Bessie Smith, and he bought a stolen typewriter for $10, which he would often pawn when money was tight.

At 20 he decided he was a poet and submitted his poetry to such magazines as Harper’s.

He began to write in bars, the local cigar store and cafes, longhand on table napkins and on yellow notepads, absorbing the voices and characters around him.

He liked to write on cafe napkins because, he said, it freed him up and made him less self-conscious as a writer.

He would then gather the notes and type them up at home. Gifted with a talent for catching dialect and accents, Wilson had an “astonishing memory,” which he put to full use during his career.

He slowly learned not to censor the language he heard when incorporating it into his work.

In 1981, Wilson married Judy Oliver. The following year, his new play, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, was accepted at the Eugene O’Neill Playwright’s Conference.

The year 1982 was particularly fruitful for Wilson, as it marked his introduction to Lloyd Richards, who went on to direct Wilson’s first six Broadway plays.

In 1994, Wilson married for the third time, to a costume designer named Constanza Romero.

Seven Guitars made its way to the Broadway stage two years later, followed by the birth of Wilson’s and Romero’s daughter, Azula, in 1997.

King Hedley II made its Broadway debut in 2001, and Gem of the Oceanpremiered in Chicago roughly a year later.

In 2003, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottomwas revived on Broadway.