August Wilson, America's preeminent African-American playwright and one of its most accomplished of any race, has been diagnosed with terminal liver cancer.
The 60 year-old Wilson, who was born in Pittsburgh but resides in Seattle, was confirmed as being stricken with the illness on June 14th at the University of Washington Medical Center in the former city. Doctors initially advised him to undergo a liver transplant and chemoembolization, which entail "cancer-fighting drugs injected directly into the tumor," according to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. However, doctors found that the disease has progressed to such a stage that treatment would be in vain; Wilson now has three to five months left to live, according to doctors.
"It's not like poker, you can't throw your hand in. I've lived a blessed life. I'm ready," he told the Post-Gazette. "I'm glad I finished the cycle." "The cycle" refers to his epic ten-play chronicle of the African-American experience; each play covered a decade in the twentieth century. In order of production (the first was in 1984 and the last this year), they are: Jitney, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Fences, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, The Piano Lesson, Two Trains Running, Seven Guitars, King Hedley II, Gem of the Ocean and Radio Golf.
The latter has not yet opened on Broadway, but is currently running at now playing at the Center Theatre Group's Mark Taper Forum through September 18th. "Wilson spent the two months after learning of his illness working on a
major re-write of Radio Golf, although his condition did not allow
him to go to Los Angeles for the rehearsals, the first such absence in
his career," stated the Post-Gazette. Both Radio Golf and Gem of the Ocean, respectively set in the last and first decades of the twentieth century, feature the indomitable Aunt Ester as a major character.
Wilson received a Tony Award for Fences (all the plays were nominated but for Jitney, which wasn't produced on Broadway), as well as two Pulitzer Prizes for Fences and The Piano Lesson. He the subject of an upcoming retrospective celebration at New York's Signature Theatre Company. Beginning in fall 2006 with a staging of Two Trains Running, it will run through 2007 (it was pushed back from 2005-2006). Wilson was also to have been seen in a one-man show entitled How I Learned What I Learned, which he first performed elsewhere in 2003, at the theatre. Signature Artistic Director James Houghton stated, "Signature Theatre Company is deeply saddened to hear about August
Wilson's illness and our thoughts and prayers are with him and his
family. We remain fully committed to
working with August on crafting a season plan that will celebrate his
extraordinary contribution to the American theatre."
Wilson is married to costume designer Constanza Romero, who told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that her husband plans to fight the disease. "He's taking it very well, with a lot of strength and determination," she said. Wilson also continues to work on a number of writing projects, according to the Post-Gazette.