Known for creating successful stage plays such as Fences and Jitney, playwright August Wilson brought Black stories to the stage for decades. Until his death in 2005, this poet had the ability to translate the Black experience into breathtaking theatrical productions. Wilson found such success with his stories that his work continues to be celebrated and adapted today. The recent production of The Piano Lesson was the most financially successful revival of an August Wilson play on Broadway.

To celebrate Black History Month, here are five incredible facts to know about August Wilson.

He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, twice! 

Wilson’s work didn’t go unnoticed by top American publishers and writers when he staged his stories for the world to see. In fact, the playwright was honored not once, but twice by the Pulitzer board. He won his first Pulitzer in 1987 for his production of Fences, for which he also snagged a Tony Award. Wilson was presented with a Pulitzer award for a second time just three years later, in 1990, for The Piano Lesson

Samuel L. Jackson and Ray Fisher in THE PIANO LESSON_photo by Julieta Cervantes
Samuel L. Jackson and Ray Fisher in Broadway's The Piano Lesson. Image: Julieta Cervantes.

His famous plays are set in his childhood home. 

Wilson’s younger years were spent in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he was born in 1945. The poor neighborhood made a lasting impact on Wilson even after he moved away to the suburbs, as many of the plays in his 10-play Pittsburgh cycle share this setting. Years later, in the late 1960s, Wilson and a friend returned to Pittsburgh’s Hill District to establish the Black Horizon Theater. 

He never studied drama in school.

It may come as a surprise to many that, despite having written many notable plays, Wilson had never studied playwriting. He dropped out of high school while still in his teens and decided instead to self-study. He continued to work menial jobs before becoming a poet and writing for publications like Harper's. Wilson credited his playwriting prowess to studying the “Four Bs”: poet Jorge Luis Borges, playwright Amiri Baraka, painter Romare Bearden and most importantly, the blues.

His father was Caucasian.

Although Wilson’s work centered mainly on what many call the "Black American experience," the scribe himself was of mixed heritage. His White German father, Frederick Kittel, left his mother, Daisy Wilson when he and his siblings were young. Nevertheless, Wilson had to deal with racism in the nearby white suburb of Hazelwood and navigate his own complex experience with race. 

His impact in Pittsburgh, Pennslyvania, is still strong today.

In the wake of his death, Wilson was honored posthumously by those he impacted. In 2007, his childhood home in Pittsburgh’s Hill District was designated as a historical landmark and an exhibit on his life remains open to the public in Pennsylvania. In addition to these permanent fixtures, Wilson was also featured on a US Postal Service Forever Stamp in 2021.