In Pittsburgh, hundreds gathered outside August Wilson’s childhood home in the historic Hill District to celebrate the grand opening of the August Wilson House, including Academy Award-winner Denzel Washington, reports the New York Times.
After years of fundraising and restoring the residence, the house where the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright lived in the first 13 years of his life is now open to the public. It is stands as honorific to Wilson's legacy and the importance of Black arts.
Wilson’s nephew, Paul Ellis Jr., began the project shortly after his uncle’s death in 2005. Although the house was abandoned at the time, it became a place of pilgrimage for fans of Wilson’s work.
With the support of several Pittsburgh foundations and other generous benefactors such as Washington, the house is now a space to fuel the passions of the next generation of artists.
A feature of the restoration project is that the house has an outdoor stage behind the home which is currently showcasing the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater Company’s production of Wilson’s play Jitney through September 18, 2022.
Along with Washington, the event featured many speakers, including Wilson’s daughter Sakina Ansari-Wilson and Wilson’s widow Constanza Romero Wilson.
Washington who played Troy Maxson in the film adaptation of Wilson’s play Fences in 2016, praised the community’s efforts to maintain Wilson’s legacy.
“I want to thank the community,” Washington said, because Wilson “is yours, and you are his. You just share him with the rest of us.”
Constanza Romero Wilson, who designed the costumes for many of her husband's later plays, also spoke at the event.
“This is sacred ground,” she said of the house. “It commemorates our generation’s hero—August Wilson. August Wilson House belongs to the Hill, to Black Americans, and because his stories are American stories of triumph under oppression, it belongs to all of us Americans.”
Ed Gainey, Pittsburgh’s first Black mayor, shared that Wilson was the commencement speaker at his high school graduation in 1994.
“There’s not a child in this city who should not know who August Wilson is. Not a child,” Gainey said. “And today speaks volumes to how far we’ve come in recognizing African American history in this city and celebrating the heroes that came before us.”
“Today is August Wilson’s Day,” he added.
Wilson is best known for his series of 10 plays called the "Pittsburgh Cycle," which document various experiences of Black Americans throughout the 20th century. Nine of these plays, including Jitney, Fences and The Piano Lesson, are set in Hill District.
Fences and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom have been adapted into feature films.