Monday, October 03, 2005

Voices from the Hill

August Wilson has died, taking a voice that distilled the experience of black Americans in the 20th century in a cycle of plays - "Fences," "The Piano" - all but one of them set in the Hill District of Pittsburgh.
That was a rough neighborhood - the shorthand term for violence I recall from the Pittsburgh evening news. But it was also a vibrant, crowded, raw, rich place whose cadences Wilson retained and that fed his art long after he fled the Hill for the calmer streets of St. Paul and Seattle.
"In his work, Mr. Wilson depicted the struggles of black Americans with uncommon lyrical richness, theatrical density and emotional heft, in plays that gave vivid voices to people on the frayed margins of life: cabdrivers and maids, garbagemen and side men and petty criminals. In bringing to the popular American stage the gritty specifics of the lives of his poor, trouble-plagued and sometimes powerfully embittered black characters, Mr. Wilson also described universal truths about the struggle for dignity, love, security and happiness in the face of often overwhelming obstacles," wrote Charles Isherwood in the New York Times. read the entire obituary here
August Wilson is gone, but if you'd like to take another view of the Hill, check out John Edgar Wideman's "Brothers and Keepers," an intense memoir/narrative. Wideman ended up a noted author and professor in the Midwest while his brother ended up in Western State Penitentiary.

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