August Wilson

Joanna Chait

Often known among Wilson students as the author of “Fences,” August Wilson is one of the most famous playwrights of all time. He is a popular choice to name Woodrow Wilson High School’s name after.

August Wilson was born in 1945 with the name Fredrick August Kittelin. He lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the Hill District, a majority African American neighborhood renowned for its lively arts and jazz culture. This neighborhood became the setting in many of Wilson’s plays.
In 1958 his mother, Daisy Wilson, moved the family to a predominately white suburb in Pittsburg called Hazelwood, where they experienced frequent discrimination and racism from their white neighbors. His experiences in the two different neighborhoods as a Black man were formative in shaping his own identity and complex relationship with race. This is shown consistently through his work, as he is well known for portraying the Black experience in America.

At the age of 15, Wilson dropped out of Gladstone High School after he was wrongfully accused of plagiarizing a 20-page paper. He worked some blue collar jobs, where he met many people who would become characters in his plays. It was also around this time, in 1960, when he switched his last name from Kittle to his mothers maiden name, Wilson, to participate in the Black Arts Movement. 

He started pursuing writing in the same year, submitting poetry to various magazines. His career took off in 1968, when Wilson co-founded and directed shows at the Black Horizon Theater with Rob Penny. 

Wilson is most famous for writing “The Cycle of Plays” or “The American Century Cycle.”a collection of ten plays describing the Black experience in America throughout the 20th century. 

But his most successful plays were “Fences” and “The Piano Lesson,” both of which won Pulitzer Prizes. 

 Despite his death in 2005, Wilson’s legacy is still prevalent in the African American and Theater Arts communities. To honor his life’s impact, The Wilson Center for African American Culture opened in 2009 and The Virginia Theater on Broadway was re-named after him.