Person Of The Day: August Wilson
August Wilson was born Frederick August Kittel on April 27, 1945; his family long called him Freddy. His mother, Daisy Wilson, whose own mother had walked north from North Carolina, raised her six children in a cold-water flat behind Bella's grocery on Bedford Avenue in the Hill. She died of lung cancer in March 1983, just before her son's first great success on Broadway.
His father, also Frederick Kittel, was a German baker who died in 1965. "My father very rarely came around," Mr. Wilson said. "I grew up in my mother's household in a cultural environment which was black." He also had a stepfather, David Bedford, who died in 1969.
There were six children: his older sisters, Freda, Linda Jean, and Donna, and his younger brothers, Edwin and Richard, all of whom survive him. His brothers kept their father's name, but at 20, he signaled his cultural loyalty by taking his mother's, becoming August Wilson.
His mother valued education, sending him to St. Richard's parochial school in the Hill, then to Central Catholic High School in Oakland. As the only black student in the school, he was constantly taunted and harassed, so he left just before the end of his freshman year.
He started the next year at Connelley Vo-Tech, which he found pointless, so he switched to Gladstone High School, just across the street from the Hazelwood home the family had moved to when he was 12. He was supposedly in the 10th grade but because he hadn't graduated from the 9th at Central, they had him taking 9th grade subjects. The work was well behind what he had already done, so he was bored and didn't work at it until he decided he wanted to get into the after-school college club run by one of the teachers.
It was that teacher who, in an often-told story, doubted he'd written a 20-page paper on Napoleon he submitted. Insulted, the future August Wilson dropped out of school at 15 and for a while didn't tell his mother.
"I dropped out of school, but I didn't drop out of life," he recalled. "I would leave the house each morning and go to the main branch of the Carnegie Library in Oakland where they had all the books in the world. ... I felt suddenly liberated from the constraints of a pre-arranged curriculum that labored through one book in eight months."
Read more about this great man here.
Wilson was a great influence on me as a theatre major in college. I remeber reading his play Fences and being blown away by his brilliance. Reading his plays helped me really understand the struggles and triumphs of what it is like to be a black man in America.
The theatre community is greatly indebted to this man. He will definitely be remembered as one of the greatest American playwrights.
Rest In Peace August Wilson!