A YEAR WITH AUGUST

Explore the complete works of Pulitzer Prize winning playwright August Wilson with Aurora Theatre Company's Associate Artistic Director Dawn Monique Williams over the course of this monthly book club. Continuing with Joe Turner's Come and Gone, the second play chronologically, members will have the opportunity to engage in a deep dive of Wilson's Pittsburgh Cycle, a series of ten plays, each of which paint a portrait of Black life in America in a different decade of the twentieth century. Often referred to as the Century Cycle, Wilson's work exalts "the poetry in the everyday language of black America" and is among the most celebrated plays of the modern American canon. Unless otherwise specified, all meetings of this book club will be held virtually in a webinar format, where members can sign in from anywhere in the world to see the conversation. Be sure to register early to submit questions or participate live in the discussion. Dates and discussion material are as follows, and we encourage support of local bookstores when purchasing plays. Bookshop.org, Indiebound.org, and Marcus Books, in Oakland, California are all wonderful resources.

Live Discussion Dates

7 PM Pacific Standard Time
August 31 | Gem of the Ocean
September 21 | Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
October 12 | Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
November 9 | The Piano Lesson
December 14 | Seven Guitars
January 11 | Fences
February 8 | Two Trains Running
March 8 | Jitney
April 12 | King Hedley II
May 10 | Radio Golf
June 14 | The Ground on Which I Stand
July 12 | TBD

Recordings available within 48 hours of Live Events
Watch the most recent discussion here

OUR NEXT CONVERSATION | NOVEMBER 9th 7PM

The Piano Lesson

Winner of the 1990 Tony Award for Best Play and Pulitzer Prize for Drama, The Piano Lesson takes place in 1936 when Boy Willie arrives in Pittsburgh at his sister Berniece’s house having traveled from Mississippi with a truckload of watermelons. Wanting to buy the land his forebears sharecropped, and were enslaved on, he has to come up with the money quick, and has a plan to sell the old family piano. Berniece, with whom he shares ownership of the heirloom, is unwilling to part with what has been in the family for generations and, through a series of intricate carvings, illustrates the family’s ancestry and rise from slavery. The Charles family seems to be haunted by the ghosts of the past and visited by the voices of the ancestors as Wilson asks readers to reckon with the foundation of the prison industrial complex, religion as a means of mobility, the development of an urban city, and the complicated legacy of the enslaved.
 
Join Live October 12th at 7pm

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As you read The Piano Lesson consider the following for our conversation:
  • Whose argument do you find yourself leaning toward? Do you think like Boy Willie, that there is value in reclaiming the land and investing in it? Or, are you like Berniece, feeling that you can’t put a price on the blood poured into the piano?
  • How do you interpret the title, The Piano Lesson?
  • We have talked about the importance of character names in Wilson’s plays: How does the naming here provide a case study for this signature Wilson device?

RESOURCES

Wilson’s 1990 Spin Essay on Fences: I Want A Black Director

When August Wilson first began searching for a black director for a film version of his play, Fences, he was met with resistance from both Paramount Pictures and famous peers alike. In the October 1990 issue of Spin, guest-edited by Spike Lee, the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright wrote about Hollywood's resistance to a black-directed film, and how that made it even more necessary.
Read this essay by August Wilson here

August Wilson debates Robert Brustein on Diversity (1997)

An NPR Fresh Air abridged broadcast of the debate between playwright August Wilson and critic Robert Brustein over multiculturalism and the theater. The discussion is moderated by actress, playwright, and performance artist Anna Deavere Smith. Wilson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author of the well-known play "Fences" says the modern theater system jeopardizes the values of black actors because it is dominated by white society. Brustein, the American Repertory Theater's artistic director and the theater critic of "The New Republic," claims Wilson's ideas encourage black separatism. The debate was held at New York's Town Hall on January 27, 1997 and was a follow-up of the growing discussion between the two men in theater magazines.

FURTHER READING

Worse Than Slavery


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In this sensitively told tale of suffering, brutality, and inhumanity, Worse Than Slavery is an epic history of race and punishment in the deepest South from emancipation to the Civil Rights Era—and beyond.

Immortalized in blues songs and movies like Cool Hand Luke and The Defiant Ones, Mississippi’s infamous Parchman State Penitentiary was, in the pre-civil rights south, synonymous with cruelty. Now, noted historian David Oshinsky gives us the true story of the notorious prison, drawing on police records, prison documents, folklore, blues songs, and oral history, from the days of cotton-field chain gangs to the 1960s, when Parchman was used to break the wills of civil rights workers who journeyed south on Freedom Rides.

The Warmth of Other Suns

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In this epic, beautifully written masterwork, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Isabel Wilkerson chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life.

From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. Wilkerson compares this epic migration to the migrations of other peoples in history. She interviewed more than a thousand people, and gained access to new data and official records, to write this definitive and vividly dramatic account of how these American journeys unfolded, altering our cities, our country, and ourselves.

Slavery by Another Name

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This groundbreaking historical expose unearths the lost stories of enslaved persons and their descendants who journeyed into freedom after the Emancipation Proclamation and then back into the shadow of involuntary servitude shortly thereafter in “The Age of Neoslavery.”

By turns moving, sobering, and shocking, this unprecedented Pulitzer Prize-winning account reveals the stories of those who fought unsuccessfully against the re-emergence of human labor trafficking, the companies that profited most from neoslavery, and the insidious legacy of racism that reverberates today.

Dawn Monique Williams, Associate Artistic Director

Dawn, a native of Oakland, CA, was Artistic Associate and a resident artist at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for six seasons where she directed Merry Wives of Windsor in 2017. Recent directing credits includes  Bull in a China Shop for Aurora in 2019, The Secretaries (Willamette Week’s Top 10 Portland Theatre Productions of 2018), A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, The Piano Lesson, and By the Way, Meet Stark. She's worked in theatre across the US including: HERE Arts Center, Profile Theatre (Portland), American Conservatory Theatre, Chautauqua Theater Company, African American Shakespeare Company. Upcoming projects are Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown at Town Hall Theatre and Earthrise at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Her awards include a Princess Grace Theatre Fellowship, a TCG Leadership U Residency Grant, the Killian Directing Fellowship at OSF, and a Drama League Directing Fellowship. She holds an MA in Dramatic Literature and an MFA in Directing. Dawn is a member of SDC.

August Wilson

August Wilson was an award-winning American playwright best known for his play, Fences, which won the Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award. In 2016, Fences was made into a film starring Denzel Washington who also served as the film’s director. For his series of ten plays, The Pittsburgh Cycle, which depicts different aspects of the African-American experience in the U.S., Wilson received two Pulitzer Prizes for drama. In all, over the course of his career, Wilson amassed numerous other awards, including a Whiting Award, a Literary Lion Award from the New York Public Library, a Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame Award, the American Theatre Critics’ Association Award, the U.S. National Humanities Medal, an Olivier Award, and the Outer Critics Circle Award. In 2005, fourteen days after his death, New York City’s Virginia Theatre was renamed the August Wilson Theatre, becoming the first Broadway Theatre to bear the name of an African-American. In 2006, Wilson was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame. (Source: The Montgomery Fellows Program)

PREVIOUS CONVERSTATIONS

October 9th 2020 | Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Inspired by the music and legacy of legendary blues singer, Ma Rainey (Gertrude Pridgett), Wilson illuminates the lives of the unsung background musicians. The year is 1927, and the “Mother of the Blues,” Ma Rainey, is set to record an album in a Chicago studio. Tensions mount as the blues players, all Black men, are held in the basement band room awaiting Ma’s arrival. The exploitation of Black recording artists becomes clear as Wilson tackles place of pride, loss of and struggle for dignity, history, and issues of race, class, and gender. A film version of the play, produced by Denzel Washington, directed by George C. Wolfe, and adapted for screen by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, has an anticipated Netflix release in November. The film stars Viola Davis as Ma Rainey, along with Glynn Turman as Toledo, Colman Domingo as Cutter, and Chadwick Boseman, in his final film role, as Levee.
Watch our previous MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM discussion

SEPTEMBER 21st 2020| JOE TURNER'S COME AND GONE
Set in Pittsburgh’s Hill District at the Hollys' boarding house in 1911, a mysterious stranger, Herald Loomis, arrives in search of his wife. Each resident of the boarding house is reconciling a past and legacy of enslavement with the budding development of urban community. The host of characters Loomis encounters include the proprietors of the boarding home, an eccentric conjure man whose practice is firmly rooted in African traditions, and a young musician man up from the South. This drama, by the author of The Piano Lesson, Seven Guitars, and Fences, is an installment in Wilson’s Century Cycle chronicling Black life in each decade of the 20th century.
Watch our previous JOE TURNER'S COME AND GONE discussion

August 31st  2020 | Gem Of The Ocean
August Wilson’s Century Cycle (a series of ten plays each set in a different decade) begins with Gem of the Ocean, which takes place in 1904 in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (where most of the cycle’s plays are set). Gem of the Ocean unfolds in the home of Aunt Ester, the well-known 285-year-old matriarch whose home has become a sanctuary for the troubled and lost. Onto the scene walks Citizen Barlow, a man who has fled from Alabama in search of renewed life. Citizen has come to Aunt Ester’s because of the tales he has heard of her soul-cleansing powers. Aunt Ester guides him and the other members, old and new, of her household, through a spiritual journey of redemption and self-discovery. When an incident in town leaves the community devastated by the loss of one of their leaders, Citizen steps up to continue the legacy of leading the enslaved toward freedom.
Watch our previous GEM OF THE OCEAN discussion
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