August Wilson on Broadway: A History

August Wilson was a Pulitzer winning playwright who was known for depicting the harsh extremities of the African American experience in the 20th century. He was known for writing The Pittsburgh play, a series which consisted of ten plays.

 Born on April 27th, 1945 to Frederick August KittelSr and Daisy Wilson, he was initially named Frederick August Kittel Jr. His father was a Sudeten German immigrant while his mother was an African American from North Carolina. Wilson was the fourth among six children.

 Wilson was raised in an economically depressed neighbourhood by his mother. His father was absent from his childhood, and this is the reason why he took his mother’s name when he wrote.

 Right from the very beginning, Wilson found his calling in writing and knew that was what he wanted to do all his life. But his mother wasn’t supportive of this as she wanted him to become a lawyer. Due to this, Daisy Wilson forced her son to enlist in the army where he served for three years until 1962.

 After leaving the army, Wilson worked many odd jobs such as gardener, dishwasher and short-order cook. In the year 1965, tragedy struck as his father died and to honour him, he adopted changed his name to August Wilson. It was the same year that he bought a stolen typewriter for just 10 dollars.

 As life was tough, he had to pawn his typewriter in order to get money.

 In the year 1968, along with his friend Rob Penny, Wilson co-founded the Black Horizon Theatre. It was here that he wrote and performed his first play, Recycling. It was performed only in schools and public housing for small audiences. The ticket prices were only 50 cents.

 Wilson didn’t know much about directing. But that didn’t bother him as he studied books from the library to educate himself about directing.

 His works were noticed by Hollywood when a studio proposed an on-screen adaption of his play Fences. But this fell through as the studio wanted to hire a white director which Wilson was firmly against.

 In the year 1976, Vernell Lillie, the founder of the Kuntu Repertory Theatre directed one of Wilson’s plays, The Homecoming. It was the same year that he saw his first professional play, SizweBanzi is Dead.

 After moving to Minnesota in the year 1978 on director Claude Purdy’s suggestion, Wilson began working as a writer of educational scripts for the Science Museum of Minnesota. Although he quit this job in the year 1980, he continued writing plays.


 August Wilson was a prominent figure in the development of black theatre. He envisioned a theatre that was completely black with all its positions filled by black people. He also wanted black actors to play roles that weren’t meant for black people.