August Wilson: A Life

S. & S. Aug. 2023. 592p. ISBN 9781501180668. $32.50. BIOG
There probably won’t be a better-written biography of the great playwright August Wilson (1945–2005) than theater critic Hartigan’s remarkable book. Wilson wrote a 10-play series—one for each decade of the 20th century—that captures Black lives and their frustrations and hopes. Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Jitney, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Fences, and The Piano Lesson are just a few of his works that are a permanent part of the American theater repertoire. Wilson won two Pulitzers, two Tony Awards (one posthumously for Best Revival of a Play), and many honorary degrees, including a belated high school diploma; he dropped out at 15 after being accused of plagiarism. Hartigan, an astute judge of the plays, is also insightful and moving as she details how Wilson, whose absent father was white and whose mother was Black, grew up in a predominantly Black neighborhood in a mostly white Pittsburgh suburb. Wilson often said that he didn’t do research; he wrote from “the blood’s memory.” He wasn’t a seer, writes Hartigan, but a truth teller, and, more than anyone else, the one who made theatergoers see Black lives as a vibrant part of the soul of the nation.
VERDICT This brilliant biography is a vital purchase.
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