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ISSUE 116 VOL 5 PUBLISHED 10/11/2002

Wilson returns to the prenumbra

By Anonymous
Contributing Writer

Friday, October 11, 2002

Katherine Lanpher, host of Minnesota Public Radio’s Midmorning, welcomed playwright August Wilson in a staged interview Tuesday evening. The interview with the renowned two-time Pulitzer Prize winner was a live broadcast at the Fitzgerald Theatre in St. Paul. Wilson is in town to help promote four of his plays: Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” Two Trains Running, Seven Guitars and “King Hedley II” that are being staged as part of Penumbra Theater's 25th anniversary season. Butch Thompson, master of ragtime, stride, and classic jazz piano provided music. The live broadcast was featured on KNOW 91.1. Wilson counts among America's most successful playwrights, having written award-winning plays that explore the heritage and experience of African Americans over the course of the twentieth century. He has enjoyed enormous commercial and critical success on Broadway and across the country. Wilson’s foundation stems from a district in Pittsburgh, Pa. known as the Hill. His mother raised Wilson and his five siblings alone. Wilson describes his mother as a “product of black culture and his connection to it. Black culture and experience is worthy of art which has the value and capability of sustaining us as a people. His father was an Austrian immigrant who Wilson said played a sporadic role in his life. When asked about his identity and the pressure to choose one racial category over the other, he responded, You dont choose what you are. Wilson began as a poet in Pittsburgh and as he incorporated the use of dialogue in his poems, writing plays came naturally. After he moved to Minnesota, he began to write clearly using speech patterns and rhythms that were familiar to him from the black neighborhoods of Pittsburgh. I was used to the voices of 55,000 blacks in one city and coming to a place where there were 19,000 in the whole state, I got lonely. But I could now hear those voices from home even louder. Its the voices of my people. Wilson delighted the audience as he read excerpts of several of his plays. There are elements of various emotions in his work ranging from humor to grief. Lanpher questioned those of humor and anger. As a person with a sense of humor myself, I enjoy incorporating that in the characters, Wilson said. Humor is used widely in the African-American community to relieve some of the strain of living life. There is no anger. Anger is an implication of being out of control. Its not anger, but more a passion and concern.” Wilson talked about listening to men of older generations on street corners and in pubs who coined his nickname, Youngblood. This is where I received my education,” Wilson said. In retrospect, he said, I would always wonder how they got to be old never expecting to make it to age 22, so I followed them and I listened. Wilsons writing is also strongly influenced by blues music. He listens to blues while crafting his plays. “This African-American music (jazz and blues) is a cultural response to circumstances and situations in the black experience,” he said. When asked about the place of rhythm in his work, he responded, “Its in the way we talk, just listen to the dialect.” Wilson was involved in a debate, or a statement as he terms it, concerning the lack of black theaters. I wanted to alert people to this fact, you know, in case they missed it. It is still a problem with respect to corporate sponsors and whom they will sponsor. The notion of “normal” is bound to European-American values and aesthetics and my artistic expression has no place. There are talented blacks without the tools to develop the craft, he said. Wilson has founded and promoted dozens of black theatres across the country. Wilson, who now resides in Seattle, continues to write and has set for himself a task to write a ten play cycle that covers each decade of the black experience in the 20th century. Each of Wilson's plays is a chapter in this remarkable cycle of plays and focuses on what Wilson perceives as the largest issue to confront African-Americans in that decade. “When I finish my tenth play cycle, Im going to start all over, maybe write some albums,” Wilson said.

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