August Wilson Biography | Author of Joe Turner's Come and Gone

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Wilson was born as Frederick August Kittel on April 27, 1945, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Wilson's white German father largely deserted the family shortly after the playwright was born, and Wilson's mother, Daisy Wilson Kittel, was forced to support her large family by working a number of cleaning jobs. Daisy married David Bedford, an African-American man, when Wilson was an adolescent. Bedford moved the family to a mostly white suburb, where they experienced extreme racial intimidation. Although Daisy encouraged the playwright and his five siblings to pursue an education, the racist treatment he received in the formal school system encouraged Wilson to drop out as a teenager. Instead, Wilson educated himself in his local library, focusing mainly on black writers.

In 1965, at the age of twenty, Wilson moved into a rooming house with a group of black intellectuals, and began publishing his poetry in several small periodicals. Wilson was profoundly affected by the Black Power movement in the 1960s, and co-founded the Black Horizons on the Hill Theater in Pittsburgh in 1968 to show his support. The theater, which was in operation until 1978, provided a medium for Wilson and others to raise awareness of African-American culture and issues. In 1978, Wilson moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, where he wrote his first play, Jitney, which was first produced in 1982. Set in a Pittsburgh taxi station, the play was successful in his local theater.

In 1984, however, Wilson's drama reached Broadway with the production of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, which Wilson revised with the help of Lloyd Richards, a Broadway director who would collaborate with Wilson on many of his plays. The play was the first of Wilson's ambitious, ten-play historical cycle. In this group of plays, Wilson announced that he would chronicle the African American experience in the twentieth century, providing one play for each decade. Joe Turner's Come and Gone, first produced in 1986, is the third play in this series, and examines life in the 1910s, when many African Americans were migrating north. His latest play is King Hedley II, which was produced on Broadway in 2001.

For a professional dramatic career that has spanned only two decades, Wilson has amassed an impressive number of awards from the dramatic community. Chief among these are the Pulitzer Prizes that Wilson won for Fences (1986) and The Piano Lesson (1990). Wilson is the only African-American playwright who has won two Pulitzer Prizes. Wilson also won an Antoinette Perry ("Tony") Award for best play for Fences in 1987.

This section contains 418 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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