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Black History Month


Wilson's plays give view from
the Hill

August Wilson's plays have given audiences all over the world a feeling of what life was like in Pittsburgh's Hill District.

Wilson was born Frederick August Kittel in 1945. His mother was African-American, his father a white German-American baker. His father left when Wilson was young, and he took his mother's name.

Wilson's home was Pittsburgh's Hill District, and he remembers hearing the language and rhythm of life on the streets. When he was 13, his family moved to Hazelwood, which was mostly white. He faced discrimination and racial taunts, and soon after left school.

But he didn't quit writing. He had written love poems to his junior high school crushes, and he thought he wanted to be a poet. He was influenced by many poets, including John Berryman and Dylan Thomas.

Wilson and another black man, Rob Penny, founded the Black Horizons Theater Company in Pittsburgh in 1968. Wilson was then working as a cook, an elevator operator and a mower of lawns. It wasn't until the 1980s that Wilson, who had moved to St. Paul, Minn., began writing his plays, rich in the humor and tragedy of the places he remembers from his childhood here -- the bars, the barbershops, the street corners. His characters are musicians, cabdrivers and landladies, and their words are authentic and poetic.

His mission is to write a play about the black experience in every decade of the 20th century. So far, he's written seven plays.

Two of his plays -- ''Fences'' and ''The Piano Lesson'' -- won Pulitzer Prizes. Wilson has also received a Tony Award, five New York Drama Critics Circle Awards and many other recognitions. He's working on a play set in 1984 about what happens when a family falls apart.

Wilson, who now lives in Seattle, hopes that his writing about the history of blacks in this century can help people learn from the past so they can improve the future.

-- By Debra Alward

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