Cover photo, © Vincent Scarano



August Wilson wrote a series of ten plays celebrating African American life in the 20th century, one play for each decade. No other American playwright has completed such an ambitious oeuvre. Two of the plays became successful films: Fences, starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis; and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, starring Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman. Fences and The Piano Lesson won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama; Fences won the Tony Award for Best Play, and years after Wilson’s death in 2005, Jitney earned a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play.

Through his brilliant use of vernacular speech, Wilson developed unforgettable characters who epitomized the trials and triumphs of the African American experience. He said that he didn’t research his plays but wrote from “the blood’s memory,” a sense of racial history that he believed African Americans shared. Author and theater critic Patti Hartigan traces his ancestry back to slavery, illustrating how his plays echo with uncanny similarities to the history of his ancestors. She interviewed Wilson many times before his death and chronicles his life from his childhood in Pittsburgh (where nine of the plays take place) to Broadway. She also interviewed scores of friends, theater colleagues and family members, and conducted extensive research to tell the story of a writer who left an indelible imprint on American theater and opened the door for future playwrights of color.

"This will serve as the definitive account of an essential American playwright."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Wilson admirers will rejoice."
Wil Haygood Author of Colorization: One Hundred Years of Black Films in a White World and The Butler: A Witness to History
"An authoritative portrait of a defiant champion of Black theater."
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"An exquisitely researched biography fully equal to its legendary subject."
Charles Johnson MacArthur Fellow and National Book Award-winning author of Middle Passage
"A deeply researched, impressively insightful biography that reveals in riveting detail why Wilson will be recalled as one of the greatest dramatists of the twentieth century."
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University, and host of “Finding Your Roots”
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© Patti Hartigan