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Celebrating Black History Month
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Celebrating Black History Month: Spotlight On August Wilson, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Playwright

August Wilson is a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and has been referred to as the "theatre's poet of Black America."

To celebrate Black History Month, BroadwayWorld is spotlighting the lives and legacies of Black artists from every corner of the theatrical spectrum.

Today we honor the life and legacy of esteemed playwright August Wilson.


Who is August Wilson?

August Wilson is an American Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright. Mr. Wilson's plays have been produced at theaters all over the world, including over a dozen Broadway productions of his work. He is the namesake of Broadway's August Wilson Theatre (245 W. 52nd Street) and has been referred to as the "theatre's poet of Black America"

Stage Works

August Wilson is best known as the author of the American Century Cycle, a series of ten plays including Gem of the Ocean, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, The Piano Lesson, Seven Guitars, Fences, Two Trains Running, Jitney, King Hedley II, and Radio Golf. These works explore the heritage and experience of African Americans, decade-by-decade, over the course of the twentieth century.

Mr. Wilson's early works included the one-act plays: The Janitor, Recycle, The Coldest Day of the Year, Malcolm X, The Homecoming and the musical satire Black Bart and the Sacred Hills.

In 2003, Mr. Wilson made his professional stage debut in his one-man show, How I Learned What I Learned.

Film Adaptations

Several of Mr. Wilson's plays have been adapted to other mediums, beginning with a 1995 television movie of The Piano Lesson, featuring a teleplay adapted by the playwright.

Wilson is credited for the screenplay of the acclaimed 2016 film adaptation of Fences starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis.

In 2020, a film adaptation of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom debuted to great acclaim on Netflix. The screenplay for the film was adapted by close Wilson collaborator, Tony Award- winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson.

In 2015, Denzel Washington announced intentions to produce all ten of Wilson's American Century Cycle plays as films.

Awards and Achievements

Mr. Wilson's works have garnered numerous awards, most notably Pulitzer Prizes for Fences in 1987 and The Piano Lesson in 1990.

Wilson earned countless nominations for his work and won the 1987 Tony Award for Best Play for the original Broadway production of Fences. The original Broadway productions of Fences and The Piano Lesson were honored with Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Play.

In 2002, he was awarded Great Britain's Olivier Award for Best Play for Jitney.

In 2010, Fences returned to the Broadway stage and won Tony and Drama Desk Awards for Best Revival of a Play, as well as acting awards for its stars Denzel Washington and Viola Davis.

The 2017 Broadway revival of Jitney took home the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Revival of a Play.

Theatrical honors also include seven New York Drama Critics Circle Awards for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Fences, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, The Piano Lesson, Two Trains Running, Seven Guitars, and Jitney, a 1992 American Theatre Critics' Association Award for Two Trains Running, as well as a 1992: New York Drama Critics Circle Citation for Best American Play for Two Trains Running.

Additionally, the cast recording of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom received a 1985 Grammy Award, and Mr. Wilson received a 1995 Emmy Award nomination for his screenplay adaptation of The Piano Lesson.

In 1987, George Latimer, mayor of St. Paul, named May 27 'August Wilson Day' commemorating his achievement as the only person from Minnesota to win a Pulitzer Prize.

Following his untimely death in 2005, Broadway's Virginia Theater was renamed the August Wilson Theatre in his memory. In 2006, Wilson was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.

In 2009, the August Wilson Center for African American Culture opened in Pittsburgh. The Center is about a mile from the Hill District which served as the setting of nine of the ten plays in the American Century Cycle.

The acclaimed film adaptation of Fences earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture as well as a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay for Wilson. The film also generated Oscar wins for Denzel Washington and Viola Davis for their performances. The film also received a staggering number of awards and nominations from various guilds, polls, and associations.

The acclaimed film adaptation of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom has also been met with a slew of recognition, most notably SAG and Golden Globe Award nominations for its stars, Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman.

In January 2021, the United States Postal Service honored Wilson with a commemorative forever stamp.

Other notable awards and honors include a 1986 Whiting Award for Drama, a 1988 Literary Lion Award from the New York Public Library, the 1988 Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement, a 1990 Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts and Distinguished Pennsylvania Artists, a 1991 Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame award, a 1991: St. Louis Literary Award from the Saint Louis University Library Associates, the 1992 Clarence Muse Award, a 1999 National Humanities Medal, the 2004 Annual Heinz Award in Arts and Humanities, the 2004 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival Freedom of Speech Award, and the 2005 Make Shift Award at the U.S. Confederation of Play Writers.


In 2002, 60 Minutes' Ed Bradley profiled the acclaimed playwright:

Wilson discusses the intersection of race and culture:

August Wilson introduces an excerpt from his play, King Hedley II, at the 2001 Tony Awards, featuring Viola Davis and Brian Stokes Mitchell :

Tony, Emmy, and Academy Award-winner Viola Davis delivers one of Wilson's most powerful monologues from Fences:


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From This Author Alexa Criscitiello