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August Wilson --Fences

Excerpted Interview with August Wilson From The Paris Review, 1999 A word about the playwright. Born on April 27, 1945, Wilson grew up in a working class area of Pittsburgh. His father, a German-American baker, abandoned the family when his son was only five. Wilson’s mother remarried and the family moved to a mostly white suburb. Fed up with racial indignities, he dropped out of school at sixteen and his real education started, so he has stated, in the local library. In 1968 he was a cofounder of Black Horizons Theater Company, though his artistic voice at the time was expressed in poetry. In 1978 he moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, where he wrote his first major play, Jitney. A subsequent play, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, submitted to the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, came to the attention of Lloyd Richards, then artistic director of the Yale Repertory Theater. Richards helped Wilson refine the play, which then opened in 1984 in New Haven. Hailed as the work of an important new playwright, the play came to Broadway later that year, and marked the start of an astonishing career—including two Pulitzers (Fences and The Piano Lesson) and a number of Drama Desk Awards, as well as a Tony Award for works that include Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Two Trains Running, Seven Guitars, and King Hedley II. Though soft-spoken, Wilson is a man of strong convictions about the role of blacks in this country and from the first has involved himself in “trying to raise consciousness through theater.” He has an astonishing memory—the envy of those aware of it—and equal abilities as a mimic. With consummate skill he can shift his voice, which bears hardly a trace of a regional accent, into the rich patois of the South when he mimics the railroad porters he met as a boy in Pat’s Place in Pittsburgh. INTERVIEWER Can you say what first drew you to the theater? WILSON I think it was the ability of the theater to communicate ideas and extol virtues that drew me to it. And also I was, and remain, fascinated by the idea of an audience as a community of people who gather willingly to bear witness. A novelist writes a novel and people read it. But reading is a solitary act. While it may elicit a varied and personal response, the communal nature of the audience is like having five hundred people read your novel and respond to it at the same time. I find that thrilling. INTERVIEWER Is it a concern to effect social change with your plays? WILSON I don’t write particularly to effect social change. I believe writing can do that, but that’s not why I write. I work as an artist. All art is political in the sense that it serves someone’s politics. Here in America whites have a particular view of blacks. I think my plays offer them a different way to look at black Americans. For instance, in Fences they see a garbage man, a person they don’t really look at, although they see a garbage man every day. By looking at Troy’s life, white people find out that the content of this black garbage man’s life is affected by the same things—love, honor, beauty, betrayal, duty. Recognizing that these things are as much part of his life as theirs can affect how they think about and deal with black people in their lives. INTERVIEWER How would that same play, Fences, affect a black audience? WILSON Blacks see the content of their lives being elevated into art. They don’t always know that it is possible, and it’s important for them to know that. The Assignment: Exemplify Wilson's comments, particularly his last two replies above, with textual evidence from the play. Make an argument for how Wilson's play exemplifies the comments he made near the end of the excerpt of the interview above (1000 words minimum). Due 2/26 9am
Excerpted Interview with August Wilson From The Paris Review, 1999 A word about the playwright. Born on April 27, 1945, Wilson grew up in a working class area of Pittsburgh. His father, a German-American baker, abandoned the family when his son was only five. Wilson’s mother remarried and the family moved to a mostly white suburb.
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17 February 2019
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