August Wilson, original name Frederick August Kittel, (born April 27, 1945, Pittsburgh, Pa., U.S.—died Oct. 2, 2005, Seattle, Wash.), American playwright, author of a cycle of plays, each set in a different decade of the 20th century, about black American life. He won Pulitzer Prizes for Fences (1986) and The Piano Lesson (1990).
Named for his father, a white German immigrant who was largely absent from the family, he later adopted his mother’s last name. Wilson’s early years were spent in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, a poor but lively neighborhood that became the setting for most of his plays. Primarily self-educated, he quit school at age 15 after being accused of having plagiarized a paper. He later joined the Black Arts movement in the late 1960s, became the cofounder and director of Black Horizons Theatre in Pittsburgh (1968), and published poetry in such journals as Black World (1971) and Black Lines (1972).
In 1978 Wilson moved to St. Paul, Minn., and in the early 1980s he wrote several plays, including Jitney (2000; first produced 1982). His first major play, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, opened on Broadway in 1984 and was a critical and financial success. Fences, first produced in 1985, is about a conflict between a father and son in the 1950s, and it received a Tony Award for best play. Wilson’s chronicle of the black American experience continued with Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (1988), The Piano Lesson, Two Trains Running (1992), and Seven Guitars (1996).
Subsequent plays in the series are King Hedley II (2005; first produced 1999) and Gem of the Ocean (first produced 2003). Wilson completed the cycle with Radio Golf (first produced 2005). Music, particularly jazz and blues, is a recurrent theme in Wilson’s works, and its cadence is echoed in the lyrical, vernacular nature of his dialogue.
Wilson received numerous honors during his career, including seven New York Drama Critics’ Circle Awards for best play. He also held Guggenheim and Rockefeller fellowships. Shortly after his death, the Virginia Theater on Broadway was renamed in his honor.
Sourced from: Britannica Academic, s.v. “August Wilson,” accessed November 6, 2016,