August Wilson's Life and Work: A timeline, 1945-2005

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(NOTE: Many of the following entries, being brief, are necessarily incomplete. For example, although August Wilson remembered that he was the only black student at Central Catholic High School, and a large photo of part of the freshman class shows him as the only (observably) black student, there were also a few black students in other classes. Similarly, some of the following information has changed: for example, Linda Jean Denoyer now uses the name Linda Jean Kittel. -- Christopher Rawson, 2009)

April 27, 1945
• Born Frederick August Kittel to Daisy Wilson, an African American whose parents came from North Carolina, and Frederick Kittel, a red-haired baker who emigrated from Bohemia, Germany at 10. Family lives in two rooms (later four rooms) at 1727 Bedford Ave. in the Hill District. The fourth child and oldest son of seven, his siblings are, in order of age, Freda Ellis, Linda Jean Denoya, Donna Conley, Barbara Jean Wilson, Edwin Kittel and Richard Kittel.

1958
• Family moves to Hazelwood, then later, back to the Hill.

1959
• Only black student in Central Catholic High School [see note above]; almost daily threats and abuse drive him away. Connelley Vocational High School proves unchallenging.

1960
• Drops out of Gladstone High School 10th grade when a teacher accuses him of plagiarizing a 20-page paper on Napoleon. Gets his education at the Carnegie Library and on the street.

1962-63
• Enlists in U.S. Army for three years, leaves after one.

1963
• Varied jobs -- porter, short-order cook, gardener, dishwasher.

1965
• Discovers the blues -- Bessie Smith's "Nobody Can Bake a Sweet Jelly Roll Like Mine."
• Death of biological father, Frederick Kittel; changes name to August Wilson.
• Buys his first typewriter ($20); writes poetry.
• Moves into rooming house on Crawford Street.

1968
• Co-founds Black Horizon Theater with Rob Penny, Sala Udin and others.

1969
• Death of stepfather, David Bedford.
• Marries Brenda Burton.

1970
• Daughter Sakina Ansari Wilson born, Jan. 22.

Early 1970s
• Continues active in Black Arts movement, mainly writing poetry.

1972
• Marriage ends.

1976
• Vernell Lillie directs his "The Homecoming" for Kuntu Repertory Theater.
• Sees his first professional play, Athol Fugard's "Sizwe Bansi Is Dead," about a black man struggling with identity under apartheid, at Pittsburgh Public Theater.

1977
• Writes musical satire, "Black Bart and the Sacred Hills."

1978
• Moves to St. Paul, Minn., with advice of friend Claude Purdy; lands job writing for Science Museum.

1980
• Fellowship at Minneapolis Playwrights Center.

1981
• Marries Judy Oliver, social worker.

1982
• "Jitney" staged by Allegheny Repertory Theatre in Pittsburgh: cast includes Sala Udin, Milt Thompson, Montae Russell, Ron Pitts and Curtis Porter, directed by Bob Johnson.
• National Playwrights Conference at O'Neill Theater Center in Connecticut accepts "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"; meets O'Neill chief Lloyd Richards who goes on to direct his first six plays on Broadway.

1983
• Death of Daisy Wilson.

1984
• "Ma Rainey" premieres at Yale Repertory Theatre, moves right to Broadway, wins his first New York Drama Critics Circle best play award.

1985
• "Fences" premieres at Yale Rep.

1986
• "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" premieres at Yale Rep.
• Reunion of Centre Avenue Poets Theater Workshop with Maisha Baton, Rob Penny, etc.

1987
• "Fences" opens on Broadway, wins NYDCC Award and Wilson's first Pulitzer Prize, grosses $11 million in its first year (Broadway record for a non-musical).
• Kuntu stages Pittsburgh premiere of "Ma Rainey."

1988
• "Joe Turner" opens on Broadway, wins NYDCC Award.
• Lectures at Carnegie Institute's Man and Ideas series on "Blacks, Blues and Cultural Imperialism," shocking some by saying growing up black in Pittsburgh was no bed of roses.
• Appears on Bill Moyers' "World of Ideas" (PBS).

1989
• Pittsburgh Public Theater stages "Fences," its first Wilson play, then "Joe Turner" the same year.
• "The Piano Lesson" premieres at Yale Rep.
• Named 1990 Pittsburgher of the Year by Pittsburgh Magazine.

1990
• "Piano Lesson" opens on Broadway, wins NYDCC Award and second Pulitzer Prize.
• "Two Trains Running" premieres.
• Second marriage ends; moves to Seattle.

1991
• "Three Plays by August Wilson" published by University of Pittsburgh Press.

1992
• Receives honorary degree from Pitt, speaks at Honors Convocation.
• "Two Trains Running" opens on Broadway, wins NYDCC Award for best American play.
• Tour of "Piano Lesson" plays Fulton Theater; "Ma Rainey" at Pittsburgh Public.

1994
• Marries Constanza Romero, costume designer.
• "Piano Lesson" filmed on a set in Harmarville and on location in Shadyside, Downtown, North Side and Squirrel Hill.
• "Two Trains Running" at Pittsburgh Public.

1995
• "Piano Lesson" broadcast on Hallmark Hall of Fame.
"Seven Guitars" premieres.

1996
• "Seven Guitars" on Broadway, wins NYDCC Award.
• In June, electrifies national convention of non-profit theaters with a controversial call for separate black companies.
• Revises "Jitney" for professional premiere at Pittsburgh Public Theater.

1997
• Wages public debate in New York City with critic Robert Brustein on status of black theater.
• Azula Carmen Wilson born, Aug. 27.
• "Seven Guitars" at Pittsburgh Public Theater.

1998
• Teaches playwriting at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire; convenes Dartmouth conference on African American Theater that establishes African Grove Institute of the Arts.
• Honored at Edward Albee Theater Conference in Valdez, Alaska.

1999
• Honored at 100th anniversary of Hill District Branch Library with the first high school diploma awarded by the Carnegie Library.
• Round-table discussion at Public Theater with black playwrights Keith Glover, John Henry Redwood and his new director, Marion McClinton, who says, "August is Michael Jackson at this table."
• Named top Pittsburgh cultural power broker, 1998-99, by Post-Gazette.
• "King Hedley II" premieres at Pittsburgh Public Theater in co-production with Seattle Rep, the first play in the new O'Reilly Theater.

2000
• "Jitney" finally arrives in New York, the first Wilson play to be staged Off-Broadway; it wins his seventh NYDCC Award.
• Delivers angry historical critique of American racism at Heinz Lecture Series.

2001
• "King Hedley II" on Broadway; first Wilson play not to win NYDCC Award.

2002
• "Gem of the Ocean" premieres in Chicago.
• "Jitney" wins London's Olivier Award for year's best play.
• Move begins to save Wilson's childhood Hill home as historic site.

2003
• "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" revived on Broadway with Whoopi Goldberg and original star Charles Dutton.
• "Piano Lesson" at Pittsburgh Public Theater.
• Performs solo autobiographical stand-up, "How I Learned What I Learned," in Seattle.
• In Pittsburgh, receives $250,000 Heinz Award for Arts and Humanities from Teresa Heinz Kerry.

2004
• "Gem of the Ocean" opens on Broadway after a scramble to secure financing; closes after 72 performances while drawing full houses.
• Presides at North Side wedding of associate Todd Kreidler and Erin Annarella.

2005
• "Radio Golf" premieres at Yale Rep in March.
• Diagnosed with deadly liver cancer, June 16.
• Revised "Radio Golf" opens in Los Angeles in July.
• Dies Sunday, Oct. 2, at age 60 in Seattle's Swedish Medical Center.
• Funeral, Oct. 8, at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Pittsburgh; buried privately in Greenwood Memorial Park Cemetery in O'Hara after a procession through the Hill.

theater

First Published June 1, 2012 12:00 AM


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