August Wilson: The Pioneer

Wilson was born Frederick August Kittel in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on April 27, 1945. He passed on October 2, 2005, in Seattle, Washington. His mother Daisy Wilson was African American. His father was born to a German immigrant named Frederick Kittel.

Early Life

As a child, Kittel attended St. Richard’s Parish School and later the Catholic Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as well as the Episcopal Church. 

When his parents divorced, he, his mother, and siblings moved to the predominantly white neighborhood of Oakland. At 15, Wilson attended St. Richard’s Parish School, where he graduated from high school. He moved back to Pittsburgh to face the death of his father in a car accident at the age of 17. In the summer of 1919, Wilson, then 20 years old, declared himself a poet. He took the first steps towards a career as a writer and poet. 

Black Horizon Theater

He and his friend Rob Penny founded the Black Horizon Theater in 1968. Wilson concentrated on becoming a poet, largely in vain, until he moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1978. After receiving a scholarship to the Drama Center in Minneapolis, Wilson wrote his first notable play, Jitney, in 1979. 

Later Life

He was admitted to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. And in 1978 to the University of California at Berkeley. 

But 1982 was particularly fruitful for Wilson. It was the first of his first six Broadway plays, which Lloyd Richards later directed. Wilson’s play Fences premiered on Broadway in 1987. It earned the playwright the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his performance in that play. Set in the 1950s, it explores issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, religion, race relations, and gender identity. 


August Wilson won his first play, Jitney, in 1979. His second, Fences, in 1987, won a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award. In 1990 he won another Pulitzer Prize for piano lessons and another in 1991 for the Broadway adaptation of his novel Pippin. 

Seven Guitars premiered at the New York Theatre Festival in 2009, followed by the Broadway adaptation of Fences in 2010 and 2012, starring David Hedley as Pippin in a Broadway production. 


Fences is the first part of a ten-part drama series called “Century Cycle,” also known as “Century Cycle,” which has defined the part for decades. Joe Turner, the second part of the cycle, opened on Broadway in 1988 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his performance in that play in 1990. Wilson’s second book, “The Century,” a sequel to Fences, was published in 1991 and won the New York Times best-seller list. 

Seven Guitars

Seven Guitars reached Broadway in 1996, “Gem of the Ocean” premiered in Chicago a year later, and “King Hedley II” debuted on Broadway in 2001. The following year, “Two Trains Running” had its Broadway premiere. 

In 2003, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” was revived on Broadway, and “Gem of the Ocean” premiered on Broadway in 2004 for 72 performances. 

Personal Life

In 1969 August Wilson married Brenda Burton and the couple had a daughter, Sakina, in 1970, but divorced two years later. In 1981 he married his second wife Judy Oliver, and in 1990 they married for the third time, with a costume designer named Constanza Romero. From 1994 to 1997 he married for the second time a woman from Mexico, a customer, and designer named Maria de la Torre; since 1997 they have had daughters, Azula. 

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