August Wilson would have been 69 on Sunday, which would be young enough for him to still be, a realization that makes his age at death a hard fact to swallow considering how much writing there remains in a gifted 60 year old. He died in 2005 in Seattle, the home he had adopted after a childhood and young manhood in Pittsburgh.
His niece, Kimberly Ellis, had been planning a birthday party for her mother, Mr. Wilson’s sister, Freda, when Gab Cody, the Pittsburgh regional rep for the Dramatists Guild, asked her if they could throw a party celebrating Mr. Wilson's birthday.
“My mother’s birthday is April 17 and his is April 27; I remembered that ever since I was a little girl,” Ms. Ellis said. “With all the talk about the August Wilson Center, Gab approached me thinking about doing something to celebrate his birthday. We decided on a party to remind people about the person and why he is celebrated and respected, not the center debacle.”
The August Wilson Center is currently in the hands of a bankruptcy judge who recently had been parsing offers from suitors to buy it when it became apparent she had a favorite; the foundation group that had made an offer to buy it, restructure it and retain the mission of the center, bowed out. Read that story here
The memorial birthday party for August Wilson is from 3-6p Sunday, April 27 at the Kaufmann Auditorium, 1835 Centre Ave.
The event is free but you need to register
so the organizers can know how much cake they will need. You can also donate at that link to help them with the expenses of producing this party.
Besides cake, there will be live music, dramatic readings, birthday card readings and presentations of Wilson's monologues.
Ms. Cody said she presented the idea to the Dramatists Guild, "an idea of people from all over sending cards and celebrating August Wilson and they loved it. The guild works to promote in any way they can writers and playwrights by offering them opportunities to work on their craft or to learn more about what the guild offers, including rights writers have when they enter into contracts with theaters."
The guild also has fellowship and scholarship funds and emergency funds sometimes made available to writers in need.
"This event is a celebration of an author whose legacy has had a big impact on the region and the purpose is to bring a large group of people across the theater community and to strengthen and build rapport." But you don't have to be in theater to attend.
“I’ve never taken on the role of maintaining August Wilson’s legacy,” Ms. Ellis said. “But Pittsburgh is experiencing change, and I thought let’s do something that is unifying and fun, celebrates a great legacy and brings the figurative family together. The Dramatists Guild supports the idea and wants to see more inclusive projects.”
In an email, Ms. Cody wrote of the opportunity “to bring folks of varied backgrounds together through this event, which we see as a community-building celebration.”
Pittsburgh was a disquieting hometown for the playwright. He told an interviewer once during a visit back:
“Like most people, I have this sort of love-hate relationship with Pittsburgh. This is my home and at times I miss it and find it tremendously exciting, and other times I want to catch the first thing out that has wheels.”
Pittsburgh gave him deliciously and delightfully rich fodder for the 10 plays he wrote that cemented his legacy in American letters. Each play presented scenes of each decade of the 20th century, mostly portraying the life and characters of the Hill District. One of them, "Fences," won Pulitzer and Tony awards and "The Piano Lesson" also garnered a Pulitzer Prize.
Post Gazette photo by Bill Wade