August WilsonThe greatest living American Playwright and double Pulitzer Prize winning author August Wilson is dying.

August Wilson told the world Friday he has inoperable liver cancer.

He found out in June he was terminal. Doctors say he might live until October.

August isn’t dying lonely or alone.

He is leaving us by cursing that good night with pen in hand and parchment on his lap as he places the final touches on Radio Golf, the last play of his life.

What must it be like for August Wilson to know his ending while writing his future?

I imagine it must be a branding of a life few of us are forced to so violently face. The mark of the man is in the works he leaves behind.

August Wilson creates a wake of works that will move audiences across several unborn generations and that is the hallmark of the True Artist. August Wilson dedicated his poetic writing career to memorializing the Black experience of his parents’ generation in an America that devalued them and that told them to shut up and to behave as ordered and to go along with the sins of the past as the every day ordinary of today. August Wilson created words that rebelled as they inspired.

August Wilson’s thoughts pierced inequities. August Wilson’s spirit slayed the misbegotten.

August Wilson’s plays shout from the fields and wring the broken hearted from the pavement.

August Wilson dedicated his life to recording the disappointments of a generation of Black Americans that stretches across the last century of this nation like a blanket of death. Some of his plays include Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Fences, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, The Piano Lesson, Two Trains Running and Seven Guitars. Here’s a taste of the voice from his Playwright’s fist in the play Fences:

ROSE: Your daddy wanted you to be everything he wasn’t… and at the same time he tried to make you into everything he was. I don’t know if he was right or wrong… but I do know he meant to do more good than he meant to do harm. He wasn’t always right. Sometimes when he touched he bruised. And sometimes when he took me in his arms he cut.

Here’s a bite from The Piano Lesson:

BERNIECE: Look at this piano. Look at it. Mama Ola polished this piano with her tears for seventeen years. For seventeen years she rubbed on it till her hands bled. Then she rubbed the blood in… mixed it up with the rest of the blood on it. Every day that God breathed life into her body she rubbed and cleaned and polished and prayed over it.

I first met August Wilson in New York City in 1990. He was kind to me and gentle of spirit and he offered his hand first for shaking.

August Wilson asked for my name and then repeated it out loud to himself after I spoke. He made you feel important and satisfied. August Wilson moved towards you in the smallest moments. I will miss the man a lot. The nation will miss his breath of life more.

9 Comments

  1. I acted in Fences in college. Great play. Thanks for letting us know about his health trouble. I do agree we will miss him. It’s nice you wrote this before he died instead of after.

  2. Wow, I imagine that must be so frustrating for him, knowing that his time is running out and yet there’s this play within him that has to come out. I hope that as he chooses to finish writing it, that he is enjoying doing so, and it’s not out of a sense of guilt. No parachuting in his last days?
    While I’m not usually a country music fan, there’s a song by Tim McGraw that I think came out this year, “Live Like You Were Dying” that makes the poignant point that dying people do the things that everyone should always do, so he hopes everyone gets the chance to live like that once in their lives.

  3. Heya zandperl!
    Thanks for the cool comment. I think his last play has been and is being produced — he’s just putting some finishing touches on it as it has a first few productions around the country before probably heading to Broadway. I agree that it must be awful facing so many ends at once.
    I will check out the song you mention. Thanks for the pointer! 🙂

  4. Nice to hear from you, Keeler F., and I concur August Wilson is a master. He knows how to craft a play and you know that because you can’t cut any part out of his plays and still retain the same meaning. That means his work is tight and well-crafted and carries the Artisan’s imprint.

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