Theatre Communications Group Releases August Wilson’s ‘How I Learned What I Learned’

how i learned
Eugene Lee

By Melonnie Walker, with Michael Downing

The authorized text of August Wilson’s autobiographical one-man show, How I Learned What I Learned, was released by Theatre Communications Group on June 12, 2018 and is selling on Amazon (with a stock delay) and Books-A-Million.

The book will be available on Jan. 1, 2019 on other outlets, including Barnes & Noble.

This play joins TCG’s other August Wilson American Century Cycle plays, which have been published previously.

how i learned2
August with Todd Kreidler

Written by Wilson in 2003, the playwright originally performed the play himself.  It has gone on to be performed across the country by other actors, including Eugene Lee.

The play is the autobiographical story of August’s journey through the challenges of growing up in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, and eventually leading to his emergence as one of the top playwrights of the 20th Century.

We asked August Wilson Society members to share their thoughts about the significance of this release and offer insights about the inspiration for the play.

vivian spencer
Dr. Vivian Spencer

Dr. Vivian Spencer of Anne Arundel Community College (retired) measures the play’s content against current movements of our time, such as Black Lives Matter, Me Too, and the marches for Racial Justice, Natives, National Pride, Women and Immigrants, in her essay, “Lessons Learned”:

“In this volatile time period of racial, political, sexual, and ethical problems, playwright August Wilson provides the answer to many of our daily challenges in his soon-to-be released manuscript, How I Learned What I Learned.  Throughout the work, Wilson provides possible solutions to the complications of society by providing a series vignettes from his own life similar to those that many of us face today.

“In How I Learned, Wilson clearly illustrates ways in which ‘living life with dignity’ is made relatively impossible for many in the United States due to attitudes passed from generation to generation.  Due to these opposing perspectives, there arise confrontations that hinge on respect.  Wilson pointedly explains, ‘It’s about R-E-S-P-E-C-T. . . . Demand Respect from everyone.  The government, your schools, your church, your parents, your lover, yourself… If it cost you your life then you have lived a good life and die an honorable death… It’s about P-R-I-N-C-I-P-L-E-S.  Principles by which I have lived my entire life.’”

Dr. Larry Glasco

Dr. Larry Glasco of the University of Pittsburgh summarizes the play and gives us some perspective about creative license, in his essay “How I Learned What I Learned: Theatre Versus Life”:

“How I Learned What I Learned is an outstanding, autobiographical play about August Wilson’s experiences on and around Centre Avenue when he was in his early twenties. The play is autobiographical, but should not be read literally. As theater, it is free to embellish for dramatic effect.

“One humorous example of this is the treatment of Snookie, a tall, thin, dark, attractive waitress in Pope’s Restaurant, where August spent hours hanging out, drinking coffee, and writing. August fell in love with, and began dating Snookie, who unfortunately was married. In the play, August says that his time with Snookie taught him the dangers of dating a married woman.

“In the play, August and Snookie went to the 88 Bar on a date. Unfortunately, Snookie’s husband Billy happened to be there. Billy placed a gun on the bar and told August he had planned to shoot him until Snookie talked him out of it. Frozen with fear, August was relieved when the bartender walked up and told Billy to put the gun back in his pocket. Billy did so, and then, surprisingly, bought August a beer. He told August how much he loved Snookie, and asked him to take good care of her. Then, to August’s consternation, Billy began crying! Alarmed by the sight of a crying Nigger with a loaded gun, August eased out of the bar and ran as far and fast as he could. And he broke up with Snookie.

“That is the account in the play. But an interview with Snookie, whose real name was Willa Mae Montague, shows how the play mixes life and theater. Willa Mae remembers the meeting, but was separated from her husband, who never brandished a gun or said he planned to kill August. In fact, she says laughing, the two men got along and used to come by together to see her. Ultimately, she decided she didn’t want either one of them because she was too young. As for her husband crying and telling August to take care of his wife, she says ‘That didn’t happen. That’s theater versus real life.’”

Go Inside How I Learned


August Wilson Society 2018 Colloquium a Great Success

cropped-dsc058861.jpgBy Michael Downing

My attention has been so focused on developing the August Wilson Journal and working on my book project that I haven’t been able to keep up with blog posts. But I still would like to do them from time to time, so I’m going to try to get this one published as there is important information to cover.

Go Back and Pick up the Ball Logo 2018August Wilson Society Social Media Coordinator Melonnie Walker has written a piece on the recent release of August Wilson’s How I Learned What I Learned, so you can look for her post within the next few days.  She’s got some good quotes in there.

Mark Whitaker

Beyond that, the colloquium:  The August Wilson Society’s official colloquium, held the last weekend in April of 2018, was an amazing success. Mark Whitaker, author of Smoketown, was present to discuss his book, the Hill District, and August Wilson, who is covered in the book in some detail.

ConstanzaAugust’s widow, Constanza Romero, attended, updating the group on her activities. She is very busy managing the Estate.  She also talked about her efforts to place August’s primary documents with a university which would be charged with maintaining the material in archival fashion.

Stanford’s Harry Elam was in the house, talking about his interactions with August, as Harry Elamwell as drawing upon material from his book, The Past as Present in the Drama of August Wilson. It was nice to meet Harry and spend some time talking with him at the Hill District Block Party that was held on Saturday, April 28.

Long-time Post-Gazette theater critic and Pitt professor Christopher Rawson was in attendance and actually led  a group of conference goers on a tour of The Hill.  Chris is a fountain of knowledge and is also a member of the August Wilson House committee, which is working to renovate August’s childhood home and make it—with support from Duquesne University—into a place where artists can take up residence.

Sandra Shannon, August Wilson Society president and coordinator of the event, led the charge. Much praise should be delivered to her for her tireless work on all things August Wilson and the conference was no exception.  I think it was successful beyond our wildest dreams.

Perhaps the high point for Sandra was interviewing two “Wilsonian Warriors” via Skype in front of the conference audience (it was a musical director for August’s plays and an actress; I can’t recall their names right now.  I checked the conference program but the names were not listed.  I’ll see if I can track them down).

We were supposed to go up to August Wilson’s birthplace and watch Mark Clayton Southers’ production of King Hedley II, but thunderstorms moved through the area and the event was canceled.

There was much, much more, but I can’t cover it all in a single blog post.  If you want to see the program, click here: 2018 Colloquium Program.

If you want to support the August Wilson Society, click here.

To sum up, the colloquium was well attended and there were connections being made all across the spectrum. It was really amazing. Many thanks to the August Wilson Center for all of their help and support. They were truly awesome.

The next August Wilson Colloquium is tentatively scheduled for April of 2020, most likely at the August Wilson Center.