Lanford Wilson was born on April 13, 1937, in Lebanon, Missouri, a locale he would later use as the setting for his cycle of plays about the mythical Talley family. When he was five years old, his parents divorced, and his mother took him to live in Springfield, Missouri. The search to establish a relationship with an absent father would constitute an important motif in a number of his plays, most notably in the autobiographical memory play Lemon Sky (1970) and in Redwood Curtain (1992), in which a half-Vietnamese girl tracks down her American father.
When Wilson’s mother remarried in 1948, the family moved to a farm in Ozark, Missouri. While a high school student there in the mid-1950’s, Wilson received his formative experiences in the theater, acting the role of the narrator, Tom, in a production of Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie (1944) and attending a production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (1949) at Southwest Missouri State College.
In 1956, Wilson went to California for an unsuccessful reunion with his father. While there, he studied art history at San Diego State College, claiming it made him aware of “what our heritage was, and what we are doing to it,” which becomes a pivotal concern in several works, particularly The Mound Builders (1975).
In the late 1950’s, Wilson, by then an artist working for an advertising firm in the Midwest, enrolled in...
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