Literary News

Literary News2022

August Wilson's Pittsburgh Cycle Plays

To "Read more," go to Background in Brief.

1904 Gem of the Ocean. Aunt Ester welcomes into her Pittsburgh home two Southern migrants: ex-slaverunner Solly Two Kings and troubled Citizen Barlow, who takes a life-altering journey in the play. Read more...

1911 Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. Seth and Bertha's Pittsubrgh boardinghouse rents to assorted migrants, including conjure man Bynum, construction hand Jeremy, man-chasing Mattie, staunchly independent Molly, and newly freed chain-gang victim Herald. Read more...

1927 Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Blues singer Ma Rainey sachets into a Chicago recording studio not about to let white management control her. There too is Ma's jazz band, including her hotshot trumpter. Read more...

1936 The Piano Lesson. Boy Willie migrates to his uncle's Pittsburgh home, where his sister lives with a valuable piano, carved with images of their enslaved ancestors. Read more....

1948 Seven Guitars The action doubles back to the funeral of Floyd Barton, a WW2 vet, an ex-con, and a blues singer on a promising career path, or so it seems. Read more...

Heading and photo: American Century Plays and August Wilson

The Post-Gutenberg Era

In the 1450s, the first book printed on a mechanical press came into being (the Gutenberg Bible); in 1927, the first full-length film adaptation of a literary work (The Jazz Singer); in 1971, the first e-text for the general public (the Declaration of Independence); and in 1983 and 2007, respectively, the first national oral contests of Shakespeare and August Wilson monologues in the U.S. The printed page, pre-eminent for five centuries (1450s-1970s), had given way to the electronic age, affecting the development of textual and oral literature along the way. Today there is more cross-pollination among mediums than before. Visuals matter more to textual works; audio matters more; oral performance too.

August Wilson's plays. E-formats allow us to compile, annotate, illustrate, and perform in ways that enhance understanding of an original text. They enable rapid movement beyond past confines too. Take, for example, early 1900s Modernism. Hailed for the boundaries its writers broke, the Modernist movement —say scholars today—deserves attention to writers beyond the commonly considered few. Harlem Renaissance mavericks ought to be included too. Fast forward to 1982, when August Wilson began to break boundaries with his Pittsburgh plays, which compensate for a deficit in 20th-century American history by foregrounding how Black men and women often experienced it.

Toni Morrison on Black writers and on Huckleberry Finn. Toni Morrison, who once shared a podium with August Wilson, spoke of works currently in the American literary canon as well as ones still missing from that canon:

Wall with different e-formats of the play Fences


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