Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
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).
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Partly because Wilson has chosen to premiere his plays at Circle Repertory or in regional theaters, he has seldom attracted the sustained media attention accorded such contemporaries as David Rabe, Sam Shepard, and David Mamet. Yet Wilson’s works are among the most distinctively American dramas of the late twentieth century. Wilson’s emphases closely reflect issues at the heart of the United States’ survival: tolerance for the have-nots and outsiders, respect for the multicultural heritage of the past, the need to preserve beauty in the face of technological advance, the value of work in defining one’s self, and the importance of community for instilling a sense of belonging and rootedness.
Biography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Lanford Eugene (“Lance”) Wilson was born April 13, 1937, in Lebanon, Missouri, the son of Ralph Eugene and Violetta Tate Wilson. When he was five years old, his parents separated (and later divorced), his father leaving for California, his mother taking Lanford to Springfield, Missouri, where she worked in a garment factory and he attended school. When he was thirteen, his mother married again—a dairy inspector from Ozark, Missouri—and they moved to a farm. Wilson attended Ozark High School, where he painted, acted, and was on the track team.
Although his childhood was relatively happy, Wilson never quite recovered from his parents’ marital breakup. At eighteen, after a term at Southwest Missouri State College, he headed for California for a reunion with his father, by then a San Diego aircraft-factory worker with a new wife and two younger sons. The reunion, painfully mirrored in Wilson’s autobiographical play Lemon Sky, was unsuccessful: Wilson and his father were thoroughly incompatible. After a year in his father’s household, during which he worked at his father’s factory and attended San Diego State College, Wilson left for Chicago. He lived for six years in Chicago, where he worked as an artist in an advertising agency, studied playwriting at the University of Chicago, and wrote his first plays (none produced).
In 1962, Wilson moved to New York, worked as an office clerk—in a furniture store, at the Americana...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Lanford Eugene Wilson, a model of the playwrights of the generation bred and nurtured in the fertile Off-Off-Broadway lofts and churches of the 1960’s, may be the most prolific American writer for the stage since Eugene O’Neill. His Pulitzer Prize-winning Talley’s Folly takes him about halfway through his lifelong chronicling of the fictitious Talley family and its richly variegated American environment.
Wilson was affected by the early divorce of his parents. After spending his childhood with his mother and stepfather in Springfield and Ozark, Missouri, he moved to San Diego, where his reacquaintance with his father (after thirteen years), however imperfect, served as the basis for his examination of his life through drama in the creative years that followed, culminating in the anguished, autobiographical Lemon Sky. Gradually working his way eastward, Wilson found himself in New York at the moment of the birth of Off-Off-Broadway theater, which welcomed his idiosyncratic dramatic voice.
Three New York theaters were integral to Wilson’s growth as an artist and person during those formative years. The Caffé Cino, operated with great daring and foresight by Joe Cino, staged Wilson’s first effort, So Long at the Fair, and some other one-act plays, including This Is the Rill Speaking, Wandering, and The Madness of Lady Bright, which won an Obie for its star, Neil Flanagan. Ellen Stewart’s equally daring and innovative La Mama Experimental Theatre Club staged some of Wilson’s longer works; Balm in Gilead and The Rimers of Eldritch demonstrate Wilson’s multicharacter scene study approach to depicting whole slices of American culture in decay, a layering technique refined in subsequent work such as The Hot l Baltimore.
The third theater to influence Wilson’s work was the Circle Repertory Company, which he cofounded in 1969 with Tanya Berezin, Rob Thierkield, and Marshall Mason, who had directed Wilson’s play The Sand Castle at Café La Mama in 1965. This relationship continued: As playwright in residence at the Circle Repertory, Wilson created, developed, and directed more than a dozen plays, many of which moved...
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IntroductionAn incredibly prolific playwright, Lanford Wilson is one of the cofounders of the Circle Repertory Company where many of his plays were first produced. He began his theatrical career in New York at the Café Cino, a small coffeehouse that specialized in avant-garde work. While there, Wilson met director Marshall W. Mason, whom he ended up collaborating with on several projects, most notably the epic play Balm in Gilead. Circle Repertory’s first success was Wilson’s Hot L Baltimore, which ran for over one thousand performances before moving to Broadway. Wilson’s most famous works are the plays Fifth of July, Talley’s Folly, and Talley and Son, a trilogy centered on the Talley family. Talley’s Folly won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1979.
- Wilson and Mason did not originally get along. In fact, Mason criticized Wilson’s rewrite of his play Home Free.
- Wilson’s play Lemon Sky is completely autobiographical and deals in part with his father’s refusal to accept his son’s homosexuality.
- Wilson learned to speak Russian so that he could translate the works of his favorite playwright, Anton Chekhov.
- Wilson writes operettas in addition to plays. He has worked with composer Lee Hoiby on This Is the Rill Speaking.
- Wilson’s homosexuality influences much of his writing. He incorporated openly gay characters in several of his plays, and even his works that do not feature gay characters often depict people who have been ostracized from society.