doc/Annotated_Bibliography_on_August_Wilson.pdf

Annotated Bibliography on August Wilson

2004 © Dr. Michael Downing

Adell, Sandra. “Speaking of Ma Rainey/Talking About the Blues.” May All Your Fences Have
Gates: Essays on the Drama of August Wilson. Ed. Alan Nadel. Iowa City: U of Iowa
P, 1993.
Adell begins by citing Houston Baker’s notion of the “blues matrix” and how that notion informs
August Wilson’s drama with its “strongest impulses.” She further applies the Nietzschean
concepts of the Dionysian and the Appolonian to Ma Rainey.
Barnes, Clive. “O’Neill in Blackface.” New York Post 28 Mar.1988. Rpt. in Contemporary
Literary Criticism. Vol. 63. 450-51.
Barnes argues that Wilson explores a world where “Black people, black life, [and] black themes”
prevail. Central to Wilson’s plays, according to Barnes, is the notion of separation: “Separation
from roots, separation from kith and kin, separation from one’s own psychic self.”
—. “Piano Lesson Hits All the Right Keys.” New York Post 17 April 1990. Rpt. in
Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 63. 455.
Barnes calls The Piano Lesson “a play of magnificent confrontations . . . [which presents the]
terrible choice between needs of the present and the demands of the past.” Focusing upon
Wilson’s characterization, Barnes writes, “[The] playwright has a gift for people–he fills his
plays with characters you could have known, characters who live and breathe, characters who
shiver with life.”
Beaufort, John. “New Chapter in Wilson Saga of Black Life.” The Christian Science Monitor
30 Mar. 1988. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 63. 452.
Beaufort identifies Joe Turner’s Come and Gone as a “transcendent new work [which] further
explores the personal sufferings and struggles born of a diaspora that began with slavery and
continued with the post-emancipation migration of blacks to the industrial North.” Beaufort also
considers Wilson’s vernacular as well as his “lyric flights.”
Brustein, Robert. “The Lesson of The Piano Lesson.” The New Republic 21 May 1990. Rpt. in
Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 63. 457-58.
Brustein initiates his critique of Wilson’s play with an attack upon Wilson’s most frequent
director and mentor, Lloyd Richards. Labeling Richards’ use of “non-profit institutions as
launching pads…for the development of Broadway products” as “McTheater,” Brustein identifies
The Piano Lesson as an “overwritten exercise in a conventional style…the most poorly composed
of Wilson’s four produced works.” Ultimately, Brustein believes that this “piano is made
unplayable” by the ending, which “tacks a supernatural resolution onto an essentially naturalistic
anecdote.”
Crawford, Eileen. “The Bb Burden.” August Wilson: A Case Study. Ed. Marilyn Elkins. New
York: Garland, 1994.
Crawford examines how music and racial identity are bound together in Ma Rainey’s Black
Bottom. By examining each character in the play, Crawford illustrates how each character’s
identity is directly revealed through his or her approach to music. This coincides, she argues,
with Wilson’s own belief that each person need to learn to sing his or her own “song.”
Downing, Michael. Restoring the Myths: Converting Stereotype to Archetype in Five Plays of
August Wilson. Dissertation. Indiana University of Pennsylvania. 1997.
Downing explores Wilson’s role as a literary mythmaker who converts pejorative racist
stereotypes into sacred archetypes toward the ultimate end of constructing a cultural mythology
for people of African descent living in America in the 20th Century. This dissertation covers
Wilson’s first five plays: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Fences, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, The
Piano Lesson, and Two Trains Running.
Fishman, Joan. “Developing His Song: August Wilson’s Fences.” August Wilson: A Case
Study. Ed. Marilyn Elkins. New York: Garland, 1994.
Fishman traces the development of Fences through its collaborative journey, citing biographical
influences upon Wilson as well as how certain changes were made to particular characters in
order to create certain effects. For example, the character of Lyons became gradually more
“responsible” so as to construct a black male character who is following his artistic impulse but
yet is not “lazy and shiftless.”
Fleche, Anne. “The History Lesson: Authenticity and Anachronism in August Wilson’s Plays.”
May All Your Fences Have Gates: Essays on the Drama of August Wilson. Ed. Alan
Nadel. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 1993.
Fleche examines the use of the term “history” within the context of Wilson’s plays. She
identifies a “calculated historical displacement” as an ironic feature of Wilson’s project. This
irony, she posits, creates an anachronism which does not provide a solution to the problem of his
“history” as a conscious a posteriori.
Freedman, Samuel G. “A Voice from the Streets.” The New York Times Magazine 10 June
1987. 36, 40, 49, 70.
Freedman considers Fences, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,
focusing primarily upon “Wilson’s concern with legacy.” Freedman moves through Wilson’s
life, marking the influences while identifying Wilson as the “bard” of the “ghetto,” a “lyric poet
fired in the kiln of black nationalism.”
Gantt, Patricia. “Ghosts from ‘Down There’.” August Wilson: A Case Study. Ed. Marilyn
Elkins. New York: Garland, 1994.
Gantt argues that Wilson’s plays are “replete” with references to the South. Southern food and
music, as well as references to sharecropping, suffering, slavery, the forced dissolution of family,
and “restricted happiness” all combine to remind the characters and the audience of the “vestiges
of the past within ourselves.”
Gates, Henry Louis. Figures in Black: Words, Signs, and the ‘Racial’ Self. New York: Oxford
UP, 1987.
Gates attempts to define a theoretical apparatus for black literature by examining how texts
written by blacks have traditionally been constructed by Western theoretical systems. In this
vein, literacy played an important role in how blacks achieved “presence” in Western culture.
Gates writes, “If blacks were to signify as full members of the Western human community, they
would have to do so in their writings.” Gates also in many ways defines the role of the black
poet. He writes, “By forging value, by solidifying meaning, the black poet, in his or her own
way, forges myth. The importance of myth, of course, is not whether or not it is believed, or
even verifiable; the importance of myth is whether or not it is valued.” In short, Gates sees the
role of black poets as the keepers and the tellers of myth.
Gordon, Joanne. “Wilson and Fugard.” August Wilson: A Case Study. Ed. Marilyn Elkins.
New York: Garland, 1994.
Gordon connects the plays of August Wilson to the plays of Athol Fugard, focusing upon how
each playwright treats similar themes of race, the past, and how human suffering is brought
about by oppression. Pointing primarily to Fences, Gordon argues that playwrights “work
essentially within the tradition of the well-made play; a gradually evolving conflict is ultimately
resolved in the final moments of the drama.”
Harris, Trudier. “August Wilson’s Folk Traditions.” August Wilson: A Case Study. Ed. Marilyn
Elkins. New York: Garland, 1994.
Harris examines the “patterns in lore [which] reflect patterns in African American history” and
how those patterns are presented and expanded upon in the plays of August Wilson. By pointing
to such evidence as the “shiny man” and Bynum, Harris argues that Wilson uses folklore to
merge the “secular and the sacred in ways that few African American authors have attempted.”
Henry, William A., “A Ghostly Past, in Ragtime.” Time 30 Jan. 1989: 69.
Henry considers The Piano Lesson as praiseworthy, noting “[Already] the musical instrument of
the title is the most potent symbol in American drama since Laura Winfield’s glass menagerie.”
Kester, Gunilla Theander. “Approaches to Africa: The Poetics of Memory and the Body in
Two August Wilson Plays.” August Wilson: A Case Study. Ed. Marilyn Elkins. New
York: Garland, 1994.
Kester develops her thesis that Wilson brings “the past into the present as a vivid and active
component of people’s daily lives.” In so doing, she argues, Wilson constructs his characters in
such a way so as to highlight their abilities to experience life not only through the static
metaphors of geography and spatial relations, but also thorough the more dynamic metaphors of
the black body as a “vehicle for each person’s song and a metaphor for change.”
King, Robert L., “Recent Drama.” The Massachusetts Review. Spring, 1988: 87-97.
King begins by taking The Piano Lesson to task, writing: “In The Piano Lesson, August Wilson
writes speeches of exposition and hangs out symbols as if he were a neophyte rather than a prizewinning
dramatist whose first three plays have gone from Yale to runs on Broadway.” In
conclusion, however, King admits that–overt symbols and speeches aside–The Piano Lesson is a
“cultural and dramatic achievement.”
Kroll, Jack. “August Wilson’s Come to Stay.” Newsweek 11 April 1988: 82.
Kroll traces Wilson’s development in light of the recent arrival of Joe Turner on Broadway.
Focusing upon Wilson’s language, Kroll writes, “Wilson’s gift of verbal music reflects his love of
the blues.”
Marra, Kim. “Ma Rainey and the Boyz: Gender and Ideology in August Wilson’s Broadway
Canon.” August Wilson: A Case Study. Ed. Marilyn Elkins. New York: Garland, 1994.
Marra offers a feminist critique of the work of August Wilson, whose narrative structures posit
“a male protagonist and constructs female characters as Other.” For Marra, the implications are
large, as such products “reinforce the sexist values of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.”
Monaco, Pamela Jean. “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost: From the Local to the Mythical in August
Wilson.” August Wilson: A Case Study. Ed. Marilyn Elkins. New York: Garland, 1994.
Monaco examines how Wilson develops the “wondrous possibilities that come from establishing
bonds with one’s ancestry.” Monaco argues that by focusing upon highly specific instances his
plays, Wilson is able to chronicle powerfully human experiences, and thus “earns the title of
mythmaker.”
Morales, Michael. “Ghosts on the Piano: August Wilson and the Representation of Black
American History.” May All Your Fences Have Gates: Essays on the Drama of August
Wilson. Ed. Alan Nadel. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 1993.
Morales considers the “mystical elements” in several August Wilson plays. These elements, he
believes, allow Wilson to blend “cosmological perspective” with “historical experience” as he
writes of black experience.
Nadel, Alan. “Boundaries, Logistics, and Identity: The Property of Metaphor in Fences and Joe
Turner’s Come and Gone.” May All Your Fences Have Gates: Essays on the Drama of
August Wilson. Ed. Alan Nadel. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 1993.
Nadel argues that Wilson’s drama investigates what lay on “the other side of the fence…by
creating conflicts whose resolution requires inverting the traditional designations of “literal” and
“figurative.” He then moves to consider the where boundaries exist for several characters in
Wilson’s plays and how the identities of those characters are determined by those boundaries.
Oliver, Edith. “Boarding-House Blues.” The New Yorker 11 April 1988: 107.
Oliver considers Seth Holly’s boardinghouse [in Joe Turner’s Come and Gone] as “a kind of way
station,” where people rest as they journey through life. Oliver also writes, “Joe Turner is the
most mystical, most remote and dispersed of Mr. Wilson’s plays.”
Pettengill, Richard. “Alternatives . . . Opposites . . . Convergences: An Interview with Lloyd
Richards.” August Wilson: A Case Study. Ed. Marilyn Elkins. New York: Garland,
1994.
Pettengill interviews Lloyd Richards. The discussion flows from play to play, with particular
attention provided to the naming of the characters from Two Trains Running.
—. “The Historical Perspective: An Interview with August Wilson.” August Wilson: A Case
Study. Ed. Marilyn Elkins. New York: Garland, 1994.
Pettengill interviews August Wilson, with Wilson focusing upon characterization, dominant
themes, and particular influences. Wilson provides some extensive ideological narrative,
outlining his feelings on social and economic circumstances as they pertain to blacks.
Rocha, Mark William. “American History as ‘Loud Talking’ in Two Trains Running.” May All
Your Fences Have Gates: Essays on the Drama of August Wilson. Ed. Alan Nadel.
Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 1993.
Rocha applies the Gatesian notion of “loud talking”–where one person talks just loud enough to
a second person for a third person to hear–to Two Trains Running. Such allegorical loudtalking,
according to Rocha, is “doing what black people call ‘schooling’ [Wilson’s] audience in
signifyin(g).”
—. “August Wilson and the Four B’s.” August Wilson: A Case Study. Ed. Marilyn Elkins. New
York: Garland, 1994.
Rocha identifies artist Romare Bearden, playwright Amiri Baraka, writer Jorge Luis Borges, and
Blues music as the four major influences upon August Wilson’s dramatic art. Rocha argues that
when taken together, “the four B’s are much more than discrete influences whose traces are to be
sifted out of Wilson’s plays, but together form the sign system from which Wilson’s plays are
written.”
Rich, Frank. “A Family Confronts Its History in August Wilson’s Piano Lesson.” The New
York Times 17 April 1990: C-13.
Rich calls The Piano Lesson a “joyously African-American play…[with] its own spacious poetry,
its own sharp angle on the nation’s history, its own metaphorical idea of drama and its own
palpable ghosts that roar right through the upstairs window of the household window where the
action unfolds.” Rich continues by considering the themes of history, legacy, and language in
the play.
—. “Panoramic History of Blacks in America in Wilson’s Joe Turner.” The New York Times 28
Mar. 1988: C-15.
Rich accentuates the “metaphysical cat-and-mouse game” played by Loomis and Bynum in Joe
Turner’s Come and Gone, a play filled with characters who are each “looking… either a lost
relative or a secret life, or both.” Frank calls Wilson “An American writers in the deepest sense,”
who shows us how to find our own freedom in the freedom of others.
Shannon, Sandra G., “Subtle Imposition: The Lloyd Richards–August Wilson Formula.” August
Wilson: A Case Study. Ed. Marilyn Elkins. New York: Garland, 1994.
Shannon explores the working relationship between Lloyd Richards and August Wilson. She
writes, “What seems to be a key ingredient…is the tremendous amount of respect that each man
has for each other. As a result, egos are held in check, one listens to the other, and differences of
opinion are handled ever so diplomatically.” As Richards puts it, his job is to “extend August’s
thinking…and even to provoke it…You can call it subtle imposition.”
Simon, John. “A Lesson from Pianos.” New York Magazine 7 May 1990: 82-3.
Simon identifies The Piano Lesson as actually three plays: “a conflict between the brother…and
the sister”; “a play of the supernatural”; and “Broadway entertainment with situation comedy.”
For Simon, the finish product comes across as a “palimpsest, with earlier versions distractingly
discernable underneath.”
Timpane, John. “Filling the Time: Reading History in the Drama of August Wilson.” May All
Your Fences Have Gates: Essays on the Drama of August Wilson. Ed. Alan Nadel.
Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 1993.
Timpane asserts that Wilson’s notion of history can be understood by examining the perspectives
of the characters who people Wilson’s plays. Focusing largely upon Troy Maxson and Ma
Rainey, Timpane argues that “Dramatic irony [in Wilson’s plays] issues from the audiences’
ability to mark the historical shift that the protagonist insists on denying.”
Werner, Craig. “August Wilson’s Burden: The Function of Neoclassical Jazz.” May All Your
Fences Have Gates: Essays on the Drama of August Wilson. Ed. Alan Nadel. Iowa
City: U of Iowa P, 1993.
Werner posits that Wilson “revoices both African American and Euro-American expressive
traditions in a heroic attempt to heal the wounds that devastate individuals and communities as
we near the end of the twentieth century.” From there, Werner moves to the issue of neoclassical
“universalism,” particularly Wilson’s “nuanced treatment of ‘universal’ themes.”
Wilson, August. “I Want a Black Director.” May All Your Fences Have Gates: Essays on the
Drama of August Wilson. Ed. Alan Nadel. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 1993.
Wilson communicates his desire for a black director for his play, Fences, which was–at press
time–in the hands of Paramount Pictures. Although Wilson has sold the rights to the play for
$500,000, he believes that the play requires a black director who will bring certain black
“sensitivities” to the work.