Wilson grew up in a house on Bedford Avenue in Pittsburgh. As a young man, he began frequenting a neighborhood establishment, Pat’s Place, to listen to the older men there and absorb the history and culture of the African American community reflected in their stories and conversations, much as it is reflected in the characters’ dialogue in Jitney. Such names as “Bedford” and “Pat’s Place” and the nickname “Youngblood,” which Wilson was given by the older men, find their way into Jitney, suggesting that the community of Wilson’s youth was an important influence on the play.
Jitney was the first of what was to become Wilson’s ten-play cycle, and he revised it many years later, after he had written a number of the other plays. Jitney contains references to such characters as Bono, Pope, Philmore, and Memphis Lee, who are mentioned or appear in Wilson’s Fences (pr., pb. 1985) and Two Trains Running (pr. 1990, pb. 1992). So another important context for Jitney is the ten-play cycle of which it is a part. According to Joan Herrington, Wilson’s first version of the play was much shorter, and his revisions substantially developed the characters, especially the relationship between Becker and Booster. It is only in the final version, for example, that Becker decides he will fight city hall, and Booster answers the phone saying “car service,” suggesting he will pick up his father’s banner. Jitney and Wilson’s other plays have won numerous awards and are uniquely ambitious in American drama. They achieve Wilson’s stated goal: to put African American culture onstage and demonstrate its ability to offer sustenance.