August Wilson: A Life (Hardcover)
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The first authoritative biography of August Wilson, the most important and successful American playwright of the late 20th century, by a theater critic who knew him.
August Wilson wrote a series of ten plays celebrating African American life in the 20th century, one play for each decade. No other American playwright has completed such an ambitious oeuvre. Two of the plays became successful films, Fences, starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis; and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, starring Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman. Fences and The Piano Lesson won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama; Fences won the Tony Award for Best Play, and years after Wilson’s death in 2005, Jitney earned a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play.
Through his brilliant use of vernacular speech, Wilson developed unforgettable characters who epitomized the trials and triumphs of the African American experience. He said that he didn’t research his plays but wrote from “the blood’s memory,” a sense of racial history that he believed African Americans shared. Author and theater critic Patti Hartigan traced his ancestry back to slavery, and his plays echo with uncanny similarities to the history of his ancestors. She interviewed Wilson many times before his death and traces his life from his childhood in Pittsburgh (where nine of the plays take place) to Broadway. She also interviewed scores of friends, theater colleagues and family members, and conducted extensive research to tell the story of a writer who left an indelible imprint on American theater and opened the door for future playwrights of color.
About the Author
Patti Hartigan is an award-winning theater critic and arts reporter who spent many years on the staff of The Boston Globe. She divides her time between the Boston area and Charlottesville, Virginia.
"Masterful. . . . With painstaking research, stylistic verve, and an eye both admiring and exacting, Ms. Hartigan has pieced together the man behind the 20th Century Cycle, bringing Wilson to furious, complicated life. . . . An epic account."
— Isaac Butler
“An invaluable and highly absorbing new biography. . . . Wilson’s artistic story, throbbing with the ancestral memory Wilson felt in his blood, is profoundly inspiring in Hartigan’s magnificent rendering.”
— Charles McNulty
“[Hartigan’s] book is an achievement: It’s solid and well reported. . . . Hartigan is adept at keeping the lines straight.”
— Dwight Garner
“Patti Hartigan’s August Wilson: A Life traces the larger context of his achievement as thoroughly as it does his distinctive vision. . . . [Her] descriptions of his idiosyncratic, youthful self-creation are a delight.”
— Imani Perry
“[An] absorbing, richly detailed biography. . . . The backstage drama on Wilson’s biggest Broadway success comes to vivid life in Hartigan’s book, along with Wilson’s remarkable family history.”
— Michael Phillips
“Riveting. . . . Hartigan, with this first comprehensive biography, has honored Wilson in the way he deserves.”
— Nathaniel G. Nesmith
"August Wilson: A Life is an exquisitely researched biography fully equal to its legendary subject. With an insider's knowledge of the theater world, critic and arts reporter Patti Hartigan details on these rich, revealing pages not only the epic life of a complex, often misunderstood genius, but also the fascinating artistic, political and racial milieu in which he moved, showing us that as long as there is a truly American theater, there will be the plays and unparalleled presence of August Wilson."
— Charles Johnson, MacArthur Fellow and National Book Award-winning author of Middle Passage
"August Wilson was one of the greatest playwrights in the history of the American stage. Despite his major critical acclaim, a sophisticated biography is long overdue. Patti Hartigan has filled this void with a deeply researched, impressively insightful biography that reveals in riveting detail why Wilson will be recalled as one of the greatest dramatists of the twentieth century. A must read for students of theatre and African American literature."
— Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University
"Patti Hartigan has beautifully captured August Wilson’s ‘wild heart’ in this important work. It dives into the world of this seminal dramatist by showing us his process - and colossal talent - for illuminating the Black experience in America. Wilson admirers will rejoice."
— Wil Haygood, author of Colorization: One Hundred Years of Black Films in a White World and The Butler: A Witness to History
"Inarguably August Wilson is the most important voice in the American theater in the past century, and Patti Hartigan has captured the man, the theater, and the country. Her biography of August Wilson flows from its pages like the very stories that flow from August’s masterful and beautiful ten-play cycle."
— Kenny Leon, Tony Award-winning director for A Raisin in the Sun and director of Fences, Gem of the Ocean and Radio Golf