August Wilson House Celebrates Playwright’s 74th Birthday

$1M Donation from Richard King Mellon Foundation Helps August Wilson House

By Catherine Minnick
Contributing Writer

august-wilson-block-party 2019

On Saturday, April 27, the August Wilson House and Pittsburgh Hill District held their fourth annual block party honoring August Wilson’s birthday. The block party was presented by Dollar Bank and sponsored by 17 local organizations and companies within the community.

Hundreds of people gathered to celebrate the playwright and to enjoy the nice weather.

Jordan Snowden of Pittsburgh City Paper reported that there was a record number of attendees at the block party.

The celebrations closed Bedford Avenue from Manilla Street to Ledlie Street for over 115 vendors and food trucks. Live music and performances by various organizations in the community also participated.

To top off all the engaging events, a large donation was given to the August Wilson House. The Richard King Mellon Foundation, which has been preserving and protecting SouthWestern PA heritage since the 1940s, donated $1 million to help with the restoration of Wilson’s house, something that has been in the works for over a decade.

“We are deeply grateful to the Richard King Mellon Foundation for their support and their belief in our project and our vision,” said Wilson’s nephew, Paul Ellis Jr.

Ellis currently owns the August Wilson House and has also founded the nonprofit Daisy Wilson Artist Community, so named after Wilson’s mother. The Daisy Wilson Artist Community was founded to begin efforts to preserve the playwright’s home and the large donation will help realize that goal.

One of Wilson’s desires while still living was that he wanted to contribute back to the community. He wanted his home to help others.

“He wanted it to be useful to people,” said Rob Pfaffmann, an architect who owns the firm Pfaffmann + Associates.

He and his company have drawn up the blueprints for renovations of the house. The donation is a step towards preserving the August Wilson House and keeping the spirit and life-goals of Wilson still strong.

Also at the block party, a children’s area was in front of Wilson’s childhood home that had events like face painting, an ice cream truck, and a foam party from Radioactive Events Center Inc. Children and adults played around in the foam with it reaching two feet high in some spots.

Studio Capezzuti of Pittsburgh was present with a dozen life-size puppets that visitors could interact and dance with. The mobile glass blowing hot wheels of Pittsburgh Glass Center also held live demos of the craft while at the block party.

The block party ran from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Dollar Bank Main Stage, located in the middle of the closed block, held hourly contests and a lip sync battle. Kiki Brown, from radio station WAMO, won the battle and the trophy belt with her performance of the song “Diva” by Beyoncé.

Other performances at the Dollar Bank stage included Baby JWay, Brothamans, DJ Selecta, Friendz of Funk, L.O.S., Ibeji Drum Ensemble, Gallo Locknez, Kanti Kasa, One Harmony, Rudolph Strothers, Nia Dance Ensemble, and Sheila Beasley. Roland Ford, a well known soul line dancer and instructor, was also present for the celebrations

August Wilson Journal Call for Papers, Part 2 (October 2018)

Mural 5 cropped avatarBy Michael Downing

I thought I would recycle this announcement, now that six months have passed…

The August Wilson Journal released its initial call for papers this past April.  Material has been coming in steadily and we are aiming to publish our first edition in the second half of 2019.

Participation is encouraged.  We seek subscribers, as well as authors.  If you are interested in subscribing to this open source, online publication, please visit the website and create an account by clicking on the “Register” tab on the navigation bar and fill in the blanks.  If you want to register as an author, please check the author box on the registration page.

After the first issue, the deadline will be rolling and we will publish as submissions allow.

Detailed information on submissions, the editorial team, contact information, and journal policies are all available on the journal website.

The website is here: augustwilson.pitt.edu.

The Call for Papers is here.

Note: Pitt is the official publisher and will not allow your contact information to be used for anything but journal business.  The editors fully support this.  You don’t have to worry about spam from us; just journal business.

You may also want to check a summary blog post, available here.

If you have questions, please contact me through the journal website.  Thanks for your interest.

The August Wilson Author Society of ALA Releases its Call for Papers for Boston 2019 (ALA CFP 2019)

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2013 ALA panel on August Wilson: Marian Wolbers, Larry Glasco, Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon, Michael Downing (l-r)

By Michael Downing

The August Wilson Author Society of the American Literature Association has released its Call for Papers for the upcoming conference in Boston in May 2019.

The CFP is available here: ala-august-wilson-cfp-2019 (1)

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.’”

larry-glasco
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.

August Wilson Journal: Summary

AWJournalBanner Feb 2018

By Mike Downing

Background: The August Wilson Journal is a collaboration between the August Wilson Society and Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, who serve as sponsors, along with the University of Pittsburgh, the official publisher of the journal.

The goal is to “promote the study, teaching and performance of Mr. Wilson’s work.”  The journal  features double-blind peer review and is online, open-access.  The initial Call for Papers was released on April 2, 2018.  Currently, the editorial team looks like this:

Editor: Dr. Michael J. Downing, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania

Managing Editor: Dr. David L. Anderson, Butler County Community College, Professor Emeritus

Reviewers: Dr. Chris Bell, University of North Georgia; Dr. Mary L. Bogumil, Southern Illinois University; Dr. Ellen Bonds, Villanova University; Dr. Artisia Green, William & Mary; Dr. Patrick Maley, Centenary University; Dr. J. Ken Stuckey, Bentley University; Dr. Steven C. Tracy, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Research Assistant: Mr. Thom Addington, Howard University

Editorial Advisory Board: Ms. Kamili Anderson, Howard University, Retired; Dr. Jackson Robert Bryer, University of Maryland, Professor Emeritus; Dr. Laurence A. Glasco, University of Pittsburgh; Dr. Ladrica C. Menson-Furr, The University of Memphis; Dr. Shondrika Moss-Bouldin, Georgia State University; Dr. Alan Nadel, University of Kentucky; Dr. Christopher Rawson, University of Pittsburgh; Dr. Sandra G. Shannon, Howard University, Professor Emeritus; Dr. Kimmika L. H. Williams-Witherspoon, Temple University

Involvement: We ask everyone who might be interested in following the journal to create an account.  This will allow us to notify you when articles are published and other announcements are made.  Your information will not be shared.

If you are in interested in playing a larger role in the journal, please create an account and then send an email to: augustwilson(at)pitt.edu, notifying the journal team of your particular interest.  Credentials will be requested.

To Register for the Journal:
Go to the site http://augustwilson.pitt.edu
There is a REGISTER tab at the top.  Click it.
Fill in the basic fields and press REGISTER at the bottom.

If you have questions, contact the journal at augustwilson(at)pitt.edu.

“Smoketown” Author Mark Whitaker to Speak at Upcoming August Wilson Colloquium

Mark Whitaker
Mark Whitaker

By Mike Downing

The August Wilson Society, in conjunction with the city of Pittsburgh’s August Wilson Center for African American Culture, is hosting a three-day event, April 26-28, 2018, entitled “Go Back and Pick Up the Ball: An August Wilson Society Colloquium.”  The gathering will feature actors, directors, historians, educators, scholars, politicians, poets, members of the local Pittsburgh community, and others “who have been inspired to art and action by Wilson’s charge.”

In attendance will be Smoketown author Mark Whitaker, who is scheduled to address the gathering.

I don’t have specific information as to the nature of Mr. Whitaker’s presentation at this time, but I can provide biographical information that was provided to me:

From Pittsburgh Lectures.org

Mark Whitaker’s Smoketown is a captivating portrait of Pittsburgh’s renaissance of black culture, influence, and glamour from the 1920s through the 1950s.

Today black Pittsburgh is known as the setting for August Wilson’s famed plays about working-class strivers. But this community once had an impact on American history that rivaled the far larger black worlds of Harlem and Chicago. It published the most widely read black newspaper in the country, urging black voters to switch from the Republican to the Democratic Party and then rallying black support for World War II. It fielded two of the greatest baseball teams of the Negro Leagues and introduced Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Pittsburgh was the childhood home of jazz pioneers Billy Strayhorn, Billy Eckstine, Earl Hines, Mary Lou Williams, and Erroll Garner; Hall of Fame slugger Josh Gibson—and August Wilson himself. Some of the most glittering figures of the era were changed forever by the time they spent in the city, from Joe Louis and Satchel Paige to Duke Ellington and Lena Horne.

Smoketown depicts how ambitious Southern migrants were drawn to a steel-making city on a strategic river junction; how they were shaped by its schools and a spirit of commerce with roots in the Gilded Age; and how their world was eventually destroyed by industrial decline and urban renewal. Whitaker takes readers on a rousing, revelatory journey—and offers a timely reminder that Black History is not all bleak.

Original bio source here.

Colloquium information here.