by Linda Lombardi, Literary Manager
One of August Wilson’s darkest plays, King Hedley II is also one of his most poetic and heartbreaking. At a time when Pittsburgh was going through the worst economic times the city has ever experienced—worse than our recent Great Recession—August Wilson captures all of the frustrations, power and resiliency of life as an African American man.
The beauty of Wilson—like Shakespeare—is that everything comes full circle. Like a great piece of jazz or blues, the themes introduced in act one reprise and crescendo in act two. His poetry of the street mirrors Shakespeare's poetry of court. His characters tower over other dramatic figures. His conflicts are epic, culminating in nothing short of life and death. Wilson makes you lean in, he makes you work. He wants your best, as Stool Pigeon says. But the rewards are infinite. When you leave an August Wilson play, you are forever changed. You are a little wiser, a little more open, a little more humane.
In King Hedley II, King, recently back from seven years in prison, struggles to make a new life for himself, his wife, Tonya, and their unborn baby. Torn between the future he desperately desires and the past that continues to haunt him, King fights to grow something in the rocky ground of The Hill District of Pittsburgh.
Special thanks to WQED in Pittsburgh and the August Wilson Education Project for their dedication to August Wilson as well as their generosity of amazing source materials (including the bio below)!
Considered America’s Shakespeare, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson (1945–2005) created an unprecedented 10-play Century Cycle—one play set in each decade of the 20th century—chronicling the joys, struggles, history, and culture of African Americans.
August Wilson was born Frederick August Kittel on April 27, 1945, in the Hill District community of Pittsburgh. He was the son of Daisy Wilson, an African American cleaning woman, and Frederick Kittel, a German immigrant and baker who was mostly absent from Wilson’s life. Wilson left school in the 10th grade after experiencing racial bullying and false accusations of plagiarism. For the next several years, he educated himself at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh during school hours, unbeknownst to his mother.
A voracious reader from a young age, Wilson began his artistic life as a poet. He also sought out the poetry in everyday life. He spent time in restaurants, barbershops, and on the streets of The Hill, listening to the residents’ voices and stories as they reflected on their lives against a backdrop of economic decline and social upheaval. Wilson would later draw on these voices and histories to create unforgettable characters in his plays.
AUGUST WILSON: THE GROUND ON WHICH I STAND
PREMIERES FEBRUARY 20, 2015
For airtimes, please check your local PBS listings here.
August Wilson: The Ground On Which I Stand details August Wilson’s unexpected rise from humble beginnings and adversity to create a 10-play cycle about African American life, a groundbreaking achievement in theater history. From the 1980s into the first decade of the 21st century, Wilson was the most produced playwright both on Broadway and in regional theaters. His plays earned Wilson two Pulitzer Prizes.
August Wilson: The Ground On Which I Stand features Wilson’s family, friends, and collaborators recalling his formative years and, later, the evolution of his 10-play cycle. Notable actors such as James Earl Jones, Laurence Fishburne, Phylicia Rashad, and Charles S. Dutton discuss Wilson’s impact on their careers, his artistic process, and his unwavering belief in black life as rich and full of stories worth telling. Powerful performances of scenes from Wilson’s plays round out this definitive story of the life, work, and impact of the most prolific playwright of the last half of the 20th century.