On Sunday, August Wilson succumbed to liver cancer. You'll recall that in August, the award-winning playwright announced that he was suffering from an inoperable case and had just months to live. Wilson's passing is quite a loss; he was one of the strongest voices in American theater and the void will be undeniable. The Pittsburgh native was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for both Fences and The Piano Lesson, the best-play Tony Award for Fences, a record seven New York Drama Critics' Circle prizes plus the best-play Tony nominations for six other plays. His works were often poetic creations of epic proportion, and considered the affects of slavery on successive generations of black Americans. The stories were layered and the characters multi-dimensional.
August Wilson's enduring legacy will be that his plays were written to be presented as a series, like the Wagnerian ring cycle or Eugene O'Neill's work. The New York Times: "The playwright's astonishing creation, which took more than 20 years to complete, was remarkable not only for his commitment to a certain structure—one play for each decade—but for the quality of the writing. It was a unique achievement in American drama. Not even Eugene O'Neill, who authored the masterpiece Long Day's Journey Into Night, accomplished such a monumental effort."
Wilson discussed his love affair with the blues and explains why the music features so prominently in his plays. An interview with Playbill: "I chose the blues as my aesthetic. I don't do any research other than listen to the blues. That tells me everything I need to know, and I go from there. I create worlds out of the ideas and the attitudes and the material in the blues. I think the blues are the best literature that blacks have. It is an expression of our people and our response to the world. I don't write about the blues; I'm not influenced by the blues. I am the blues."
Actress Phylicia Rashard, who starred in Wilson's critically claimed Gem of the Ocean, also to Playbill, explained Wilson's velvet-smooth diaogue and his nuances of character: "He conveys the poetry, the natural rhythms, of his characters' speech. Everything—emotion, movement, thought, intention—is inherent in that rhythm. .. It's like going to a lake or a swimming pool. You just have to dive in, to immerse yourself. Working in his plays requires a different kind of skill. It's as if you would become a talking drum."
August Wilson passed at a Seattle hospital with friends and family at his side. He was only 60 years old.