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April 27, 1945
Frederick August Kittel is born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the city neighborhood known as “The Hill.” The Hill is Pittsburgh’s Harlem, a hub of creativity and commerce and, in 1945, still racially mixed. His mother, Daisy Wilson, is African-American while his father, a German immigrant named Frederick Kittel, is white. He is one of seven children who will eventually be born to the couple, though Frederick would be absent for most of his children’s lives.
A student at the predominantly white private Central Catholic High School, young Frederick is the victim of constant race-based bullying and abuse. He leaves Central Catholic for Connelly Trade School, where he feels unchallenged. He later transfers to Gladstone High School in the neighborhood of Hazelwood.
August Wilson discusses how he educated himself at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
Now a tenth-grader, Wilson is assigned an essay on a historical figure. After being accused of plagiarizing his paper on Napoleon Bonaparte, the 15-year-old drops out of Gladstone High. He becomes a voracious reader and educates himself by spending his days at the nearby Carnegie Library.
Wilson enlists in the U.S. Army but leaves after a year.
Stanford University Vice Provost and Professor Harry J. Elam discusses the significance of the blues in August Wilson’s work
Wilson works a variety of jobs and begins writing poetry. He purchases his first typewriter and discovers Bessie Smith and the blues.
To honor his mother, Frederick August Kittel changes his name to August Wilson. His biological father dies.
Childhood friend Sala Udin discusses August Wilson’s involvement in the Black Arts movement
Embracing a heightened black consciousness, Wilson co-founds the Black Horizons Theater with colleagues Rob Penny, Sala Udin, Maisha Baton, Claude Purdy and others.
Wilson marries Brenda Burton. His stepfather, David Bedford, passes away.
Wilson’s daughter, Sakina Ansari Wilson, is born.
Kuntu Repertory Theater produces Wilson’s first play, The Homecoming, directed by Dr. Vernell Lillie.
Wilson writes a western musical play, Black Bart and the Sacred Hills.
Wilson leaves Pittsburgh for St. Paul, Minnesota, with the help of his friend Claude Purdy. He is hired as a writer for the St. Paul Science Museum.
The respected Minneapolis Playwrights Center grants Wilson a fellowship.
August Wilson marries Judy Oliver.
Pittsburgh’s Allegheny Repertory Theater stages Jitney.
1982 - Ma Rainey
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, a play about the legendary blues singer, is accepted by the National Playwrights Conference at the O’Neill Theater Center in Connecticut.
1982 - Meets Lloyd Richards
August Wilson meets Lloyd Richards, an African-American director who serves as the Dean of the Yale University School of Drama and the artistic director of the Yale Repertory Theatre. The two men forge a friendship that results in Richards directing Wilson’s first six Broadway plays.
August Wilson discusses his mother’s influence and his women characters
Wilson’s mother, Daisy Wilson, dies.
Stanford University Vice Provost and Professor Harry J. Elam discusses Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and the musicality of August Wilson’s plays
Ma Rainey premieres at the Yale Repertory Theatre to critical acclaim, quickly moving to Broadway. The play wins Wilson his first New York Drama Critics Circle award.
Theater director and playwright Marion McClinton discusses the critical reception of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and the impetus for Fences
Fences, the story of a frustrated former Negro League baseball player, premieres at Yale Repertory.
Joe Turner’s Come and Gone premieres at the Yale Rep.
Stanford University Vice Provost and Professor Harry J. Elam discusses Fences
Fences opens on Broadway. Wilson wins his second New York Drama Critics Circle Award and his first Pulitzer Prize. The play goes on to gross $11 million during its inaugural Broadway season.
Joe Turner wins the New York Drama Critics Circle Award after opening on Broadway. Wilson returns to Pittsburgh to lecture at the Carnegie Institute and appears on Bill Moyers’ “World of Ideas.”
The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh awards Wilson its first ever high school diploma.
1989 - Yale Rep
Yale Rep premieres The Piano Lesson.
Wilson is named 1990 Pittsburgher of the Year by Pittsburgh Magazine.
1990 - The Piano Lesson
The Piano Lesson opens on Broadway and wins Wilson his fourth New York Drama Critics Circle Award and his second Pulitzer Prize. Two Trains Running premieres.
1990 - Second Marriage Ends
Wilson’s second marriage ends and he moves to Seattle, Washington.
Two Trains Running opens on Broadway and wins the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for best American play.
Hallmark Hall of Fame produces a teleplay of The Piano Lesson starring Charles Dutton, Alfre Woodard, and Courtney Vance; it is filmed in Pittsburgh.
1994 - Wilson marries costume designer Constanza Romero.
Wilson marries costume designer Constanza Romero.
The Piano Lesson is broadcast on national television. Seven Guitars premieres.
Seven Guitars reaches Broadway and Wilson is awarded his sixth NYDCC Award.
Wilson writes “The Ground on Which I Stand,” his controversial essay on the need for black artists to maintain control over their cultural identity, and to establish permanent cultural institutions that celebrate the unique achievements of black theater.
Stanford University Vice Provost and Professor Harry J. Elam discusses non-traditional casting vs. colorblind casting
Wilson participates in a contentious and widely publicized debate with theater critic Robert Brustein on the funding of black theatre, color-blind casting and other topics.
Wilson's daughter Azula Carmen Wilson is born to August and Constanza.
Wilson teaches playwriting at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.
Jitney is produced in New York. It is Wilson’s first play to be staged in an off-Broadway theatre. He is awarded his seventh NYDCC Award.
King Hedley II opens on Broadway.
Gem of the Ocean premieres in Chicago. London’s Olivier Award names Jitney the year’s best play.
Whoopi Goldberg appears on Broadway in a revival of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.
Stanford University Vice Provost and Professor Harry J. Elam discusses the first and last plays in Wilson’s Century Cycle as “bookends” to the Cycle.
Gem of the Ocean opens on Broadway.
Radio Golf, Wilson’s last play in the Century Cycle, premieres at the Yale Repertory Theatre.
In June, August Wilson is diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and dies Sunday, October 2, in a Seattle hospital. His funeral service is held at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Pittsburgh. He is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, not far from his mother Daisy.
On October 16, the Virginia Theatre on Broadway is renamed the “August Wilson Theatre,” in his honor.