Photo of August Wilson

American Voices: August Wilson

The authors featured in our exhibit American Voices represent the evolution and flourishing of American writing. Writers of the 1600s and 1700s borrowed forms and themes from Europe, applying them to New World settings and issues. Then, over the course of the 1800s, a new, democratic style emerged, rooted in the way Americans talked and thought. Previously underrepresented voices began to be heard, culminating with an explosion of perspectives in the modern era. Taken together, this rich literary heritage reflects America in all of its complexity: its energy, hope, conflict, disillusionment, and creativity.

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

August Wilson


Just before his death, August Wilson completed the last installment of his ten-play cycle chronicling the African-American experience in the 20th century. The plays were written to be performed independently but share certain elements. Several feature the same characters, including Aunt Ester, a 300-year-old spiritual guide. Most take place in Pittsburgh, where Wilson grew up and established the Black Horizon Theatre in 1968.

The plays all celebrate, in Wilson’s words, the “richness and fullness” of African-American culture and “its ability to sustain us…through profound moments of our history.” Wilson, hailed as “theater’s poet of Black America” by The New York Times, won a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award for Fences (1983), and another Pulitzer for The Piano Lesson (1987).

“From the deep and the near South the sons and daughters of newly freed African slaves wander into the city. Isolated, cut off from memory, having forgotten the names of the gods and only guessing at their faces, they arrived dazed and stunned, their heart kicking in their chest with a song worth singing.”

—August Wilson, “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” (1984)

Select Works by August Wilson

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