Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

August Wilson was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1945. In high school, He was accused of plagiarism when he wrote a paper on Napoleon I that was thought to be too scholarly for a sixteen-year-old. He was suspended from school and dropped out shortly thereafter, relying on the local library and life experiences for his education. Seven Guitars is one of a cycle of ten plays by Wilson that together portray the African American struggle in each decade of the twentieth century. The plays in this cycle won two Pulitzer Prizes, six New York Drama Critics Circle Best Play Awards (including one for Seven Guitars), and a Tony Award.

The reception of Seven Guitars was favorable; many critics noted the lyricism and subtle wit of the first act as particularly fine. The criticism of the play is generally the same: The second act is seen by most to be inferior to the first act, becoming muddled in a hurried attempt to resolve the plot. Few playwrights can rival Wilson in creating ethos amid careful construction and fluidity of prose. Seven Guitars is an eloquently composed play of unusual depth and variety, and while criticism can be directed toward the second act, a formalist reading might see the play’s conclusion as representative of the disintegration and death Hedley prophesied when killing the rooster.