UW News

April 1, 2004

Playwright August Wilson is commencement speaker

Playwright August Wilson, who has received two Pulitzer prizes and numerous other awards for his plays, will be the featured speaker at the UW’s 129th annual Commencement ceremonies June 12 at Husky Stadium.

Wilson first achieved prominence in the American theater scene with the production of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, first performed at Yale in 1984 and later in New York. It was voted the best play of the year by the New York Drama Critics’ Circle, won the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award and was awarded a Grammy for the best cast album. His next play, Fences, was produced in 1988 and was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for drama and numerous other awards.

Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (1988) won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and the Drama Desk Award. The Piano Lesson (1990) won a Pulitzer Prize and numerous other honors. Other works include Two Trains Running (1992), Seven Guitars (1996), Jitney (2000), King Hedley II (2001) and Gem of the Ocean (2003), all of which have received numerous awards.

Wilson’s works explore the heritage and experience of African-Americans, decade-by-decade, over the course of the twentieth century. His plays have been produced at regional theaters across the country and around the world. Time magazine has called Wilson “the foremost American stage voice of his generation.”

Wilson has received many fellowships and awards, including Rockefeller and Guggenheim fellowships in playwrighting, the Whiting Writers Award and the 2003 Heinz Award. He received a National Humanities Medal from the President of the United States in 1999. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 1995 he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Wilson was born in the Hill District of Pittsburgh in 1945. He dropped out of school when he was 16 and began educating himself at the local library. Working at menial jobs, he also began a literary career by successfully submitting poems to black publications at the University of Pittsburgh. In 1968, he was a founder of Black Horizons on the Hill, a theater company in Pittsburgh. Wilson moved to St. Paul, Minn., in 1978 and began work on his first play, Jitney, a realistic drama set in a Pittsburgh taxi station. In 1990, he moved to Seattle, where he currently resides.