Book, tour showcase August Wilson sites
As he refined his powerful voice, first as a poet and later as a playwright, August Wilson heard lively rhythms in African- Americans’ voices in Hill District jitney stations, barbershops and diners.
His carefully attuned ear absorbed stories of struggle and dreams deferred, rich fodder for the cycle of 10 bittersweet plays he produced before his death in 2005.
Now, with a new book that fits in your pocket, you can take a five-mile walking tour of the places that fueled the author’s imagination.
“August Wilson: Pittsburgh Places in His Life and Plays,” published by Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, is written by Laurence A. Glasco, a University of Pittsburgh history professor who did the first comprehensive survey of black history in this region, and Chris Rawson, senior drama critic for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Rawson teaches classes on Shakespeare and August Wilson at Pitt, where he has been on the English faculty since 1968. He was the first person to publish in print the local settings for Wilson’s plays.
The walking tour begins at Freedom Corner Monument, traditional gathering site of civil-rights organizers before a march. It continues up Crawford Street, where Wilson — then known as Frederick August Kittel — began his writing career in a rented room. On a typewriter he bought downtown with $20, he tapped out various versions of his new name, taking August from his father and the surname Wilson from his mother, Daisy. Her last home was the setting for “King Hedley II.”
Farther up the block is the most important site. Wilson, one of six children, lived in the building’s two-room rear apartment with his five siblings and their mother. “Seven Guitars” is set in this backyard; “King Hedley II” and “Fences” are set in other backyards nearby.