August Wilson Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Discuss the role that irony plays in the plays by August Wilson that you have seen or read.

Do you consider Wilson an angry playwright or merely a realistic one?

Discuss the roles of women in the Wilson plays that you have seen or read.

Aristotle placed considerable emphasis on the unities of time and place in evaluating drama. Discuss these unities in the Wilson plays with which you are familiar.

What do you consider the three most important social issues in the black communities about which Wilson writes?

Discuss the part that parentage plays in Wilson’s writing.

Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves in 1863. According to Wilson, were African Americans really free in the twentieth century United States?

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Although August Wilson was known primarily for his plays, some of his poetry was published in black literary journals, such as Black World, in 1969. He published a teleplay, The Piano Lesson, in 1995, and a nonfiction work, The Ground on Which I Stand, in 2000.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Critics have hailed August Wilson as an authentic voice of African American culture. His plays explore the black experience historically and in the context of deeper metaphysical roots in African culture. Since 1984, his major plays have been successfully produced by regional theaters and on Broadway; in fact, he was the first African American playwright to have had two plays running on Broadway simultaneously.

Wilson received an impressive array of fellowships, awards, and honorary degrees: the Jerome Fellowship in 1980, the Bush Foundation Fellowship in 1982, membership in the New Dramatists starting in 1983, and the Rockefeller Fellowship in 1984. He was also an associate of Playwrights Center, Minneapolis, and received the McKnight Fellowship in 1985, the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1986, six New York Drama Critics Circle Awards from 1985 to 2001, the Whiting Foundation Award in 1986, the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 1987 (for Fences) and 1990 (for The Piano Lesson), the Tony Award by the League of New York Theatres and Producers (for Fences), the American Theatre Critics Award in 1986, the Outer Circle Award in 1987, and the Drama Desk Award and John Gassner Award in 1987.

Wilson’s goals were “to concretize the black cultural response to the world, to place that response in loud action, so as to create a dramatic literature as powerful and sustaining as black American music.” While the form of his plays breaks no new ground, the substance and language produce powerful emotional responses. Rooted in the black experience, Wilson’s plays touch universal chords.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bigsby, C. W. E. Modern American Drama, 1945-1990. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1992. The author interviewed Wilson for pertinent biographical data and includes some in-depth analysis of the first four plays.

Birdwell, Christine. “Death as a Fastball on the Outside Corner: Fences’ Troy Maxson and the American Dream.” Aethlon 8 (1990). Information and critical discussion.

Bogumil, Mary L. Understanding August Wilson. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999. Bogumil provides readers with a comprehensive view of the thematic structure of Wilson’s plays, the placement of his plays within the context of American drama, and the distinctively African American experiences and traditions that Wilson dramatizes.

Brustein, Robert. Reimagining American Theatre. New York: Hill and Wang, 1991. Brustein, critic and former artistic director of the Yale Repertory Theatre before Lloyd Richards, is one of the few negative voices criticizing Wilson’s drama. He finds particular fault with the mechanisms and symbols of The Piano Lesson and hopes that Wilson will work to develop the poetic rather than historical aspects of his talent.

Elkins, Marilyn, ed. August Wilson: A Casebook. New York: Garland, 1994. The essays investigate such...

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