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 k / o
                                       politics + culture

Sunday, October 02, 2005

August Wilson

August Wilson has passed away at age 60.

Wilson was someone who knew that jazz and the blues spoke the truth of the African-American experience, and he was determined to bring that truth to the stage. He wrote his early plays, including Ma Rainey's Black Bottom while living in St. Paul not far from my family's home. I know exactly where he hung out and wrote, and I always liked to think that the old brick buildings of the neighborhood reminded him of his home town, Pittsburgh, where he set his plays.

He wrote a play for every decade of black life in the twentieth-century. And soon after he finished that project, he died. There's something to that, at once too neat, and on the other hand, much too soon. You see, August Wilson gave much more than he ever got back. Life came first...and life's bitter lessons...and the plays followed, revisiting those lessons, and drenched in the blues.

There's a small number of playwrights who've put American life up on the stage. It's a short list. Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller...you can fill in the rest with your favorite playwrights. August Wilson was one of mine.

Take a chance if you will, to listen to him speak in his own words. For myself, I'm going to crank up some Ma Rainey on my stereo...and say goodbye to August Wilson.