Pulitzer-Prize-winning playwright August Wilson died at age 60 on October 2, 2005. The Pittsburgh native lived in St. Paul from 1978 to 1990, where his meteoric rise to fame began. Before his untimely death, Wilson accomplished his immense life's goal, to create one play for each decade of the twentieth century chronicling the black experience in America. With the premiere of Radio Golf in 2005, the last of the ten-play cycle which Wilson started in 1984 with Ma Rainey's Black Bottom was complete. A self-educated man, the high school dropout credited the Pittsburgh Public Library for opening the door to a vast and varied world of ideas. Wilson often remarked that his public library card was his most prized possession during his youth.
August was a familiar face along east Lake Street and Selby Avenue in the early 1980s where he frequented many coffee shops, bars, and cafes to write and rewrite the poetry and plays that the voices he carried around compelled him to put to napkins, scraps of paper, and eventually yellow notepads.
Drawing inspiration from St. Paul's Penumbra Theatre, Wilson won a Jerome Fellowship to the Playwrights Center. There he learned to hone his incomparable skill. After his acceptance to the National Playwrights Conference at the O'Neill Theater Center in Connecticut, nearly all of Wilson's works went on Broadway. Many awards and honors were bestowed on Wilson including Pulitzer Prizes for Fences and The Piano Lesson. He was most proud of the fact that through his work he created opportunities for black performers on Broadway, in television, and most importantly to Wilson, at black and regional theaters across America.
After the recent death of his friend and colleague Benjamin Mordecai, August wrote this tribute, "There is a grace beyond matter. It is our way of knowing, and accepting, the splendor of death with its voluminous atlas. We find it when we must."
I knew August when he worked at Little Brothers- Friends of the Elderly.
~Melinda Ludwiczak, Minneapolis, MN