Hi Dr. Downing,
We are an adult group who is meeting this evening to talk about reading August Wilson’s plays in order. We are wondering whether to read them in written order or historical order. What are your thoughts?
You are asking a wonderful question. I think it depends on two things: 1) the goals of the group and 2) and reading level of the group. If you want to experience the plays on a decade-by-decade basis, then read them in historical order. If you want to see how Wilson developed as a writer, then read them in written order. You can find a list of his plays, in both historical order and written order here.
Another attack would take into consideration the the reading level of the group. For example, if the skill level of the readers is basic (high school), then I would suggest Fences first, because it can most easily be related to Death of a Salesman and standard Greek tragedy. Then I’d move on to The Piano Lesson.
However, if the skill level is greater (and a reading discussion group sounds like it might be a higher-level group), then I would suggest tackling one of the other options listed above. Personally, I think it would be fascinating to read the plays in chronological order by decade. I don’t know of anyone who has done this to date. I, myself, read them as they were published, which is not the same order as they were written and certainly not in historical order, by decade.
Thanks for writing.