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May All Your Fences Have Gates

Essyas on the Drama of August Wilson

Alan Nadel

Publication Year: 1994

This stimulating collection of essays, the first comprehensive critical examination of the work of two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson, deals individually with his five major plays and also addresses issues crucial to Wilson's canon: the role of history, the relationship of African ritual to African American drama, gender relations in the African American community, music and cultural identity, the influence of Romare Bearden's collages, and the politics of drama. The collection includes essays by virtually all the scholars who have currently published on Wilson along with many established and newer scholars of drama and/or African American literature.

Published by: University of Iowa Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

When I was nine years old I saw Orson Welles-I think it was on "The Steve Allen Show"-perform Shylock's speech from The Merchant of Venice. I was so struck by the power of the speech and its rendition that I read the play. It was not typical fare for a fourth-grader, and I'm not sure what I got from the experience, but I do remember discovering that the play was not...

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pp. 1-8

In less than a decade, August Wilson has become one of the most significant playwrights in the history of American theater and one of the most important contemporary African American writers. A prolific writer, Wilson began writing plays in the 1970s, and in the latter part of that decade he embarked upon an ambitious project to write a cycle of plays about African American life, one set in each decade of the twentieth century. He has now...

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The History Lesson: Authenticity and Anachronism in August Wilson’s Plays

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pp. 9-20

At the end of August Wilson's 1990 play, The Piano Lesson, something spooky/funny happens: Boy Willie invokes the ghost of Sutter, his family's slave master, and the ghost, unseen, struggles with Boy Willie and throws him down the stairs. It's a surprising, daring moment, breathtakingly ironic. Boy Willie opens the play too, knocking loudly on the door, waking everyone...

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August Wilson’s Burden: The Function of Neoclassical Jazz

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pp. 21-50

Playing the changes in a jazz voice grounded in gospel and the blues, Wilson revoices both African American and Euro-American expressive traditions in a heroic attempt to heal the wounds that devastate individuals and communities as we near the end of the twentieth century. Highly aware of the tension between received notions of "universality" and rhe specific circumstances...

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Speaking of Ma Rainey / Talking about the Blues

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pp. 51-66

August Wilson's drama receives its strongest impulses from what Houston Baker has called the "blues matrix"-that metaphorical space where down-home folk like Boy Willie, Wining Boy, and Doaker in The Piano Lesson, Bynum in Joe Turner's Come and Gone, and Madame Ma Rainey in Ma...

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Filling the Time: Reading History in the Drama of August Wilson

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pp. 67-85

Do the excluded and the empowered read history differently? This question is brought to mind by the dramatic practice of August Wilson. In his plays, Wilson portrays individual lives in relation to moments of subtle yet decisive historical change. Finding they cannot live without reference to the change, these characters evolve various ways of reading it. Knowing the...

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Boundaries, Logistics, and Identity: The Property of Metaphor in Fences and Joe Turner's Come and Gone

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pp. 86-104

The idea of a fence is inextricable from the idea of property. To construct a fence is to delimit, to divide up property, to separate the proper from the improper. The act of naming is fence-building; it is giving propriety to the named, marking it off as proper....

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Ghosts on the Piano: August Wilson and the Representation of Black American History

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pp. 105-115

In a New York Times interview coinciding with the Broadway opening of The Piano Lesson, August Wilson described how Romare Bearden's painting Piano Lesson originally inspired the play, and he explained what the piano initially meant to him: "It provided a link to the past, to Africa, to who these people are. And then the question became, what do you do with your legacy?...

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American History as “Loud Talking” in Two Trains Running

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pp. 116-132

In a staged performance of Two Trains Running, Holloway, the community elder and oral historian, most often speaks while seated in his regular booth in Memphis's restaurant. This booth is upstage right and places Holloway closest to the audience, which he faces when speaking. For this character's longest speech about the black man's historical relationship to...

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Romare Bearden, August Wilson, and the Traditions of African Performance

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pp. 133-149

A painter and a playwright. Romare Bearden and August Wilson. Perhaps with nothing in common. Romare Bearden grew up among the elite, acquainted with Duke Ellington and Eleanor Roosevelt. August Wilson grew up on the street. Bearden is schooled. Wilson is self-taught, a high school dropout. When Bearden began his work, he had studied classical forms and...

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The Ground on Which I Stand: August Wilson’s Perspective on African American Women

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pp. 150-164

In 1979 August Wilson wrote Jitney!, a play about a black-owned transportation service located in a section of Pittsburgh slated for demolition. Set in 1971, this work not only enjoys the distinction of being the first of the playwright's ongoing chronicles of the black experience in America, but it also began a so-far-uninterrupted pattern of works that revolve exclusively...

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August Wilson’s Women

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pp. 165-182

The significance of August Wilson in contemporary American theatrical practice and African American cultural discourse is unparalleled. In his dramatic cycle, Wilson has reexamined American history, foregrounding black experience and moving it into the subject position. Wilson perceives history not as a fixed point but rather as a site for inquiry, reexamination, and even revision. He challenges and critiques the past choices blacks have made...

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August Wilson’s Gender Lesson

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pp. 183-199

Like much Mrican American literature of the last two decades, August Wilson's cycle of plays takes its readers/viewers on an extended historical examination of gendered interactions in the black community. Although his earliest play, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (1984), does not focus on gender to the same extent as his later works, it sets the premises under which they develop their statements: the presence of a powerful African American...

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I Want a Black Director

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pp. 200-204

Eddie Murphy said that to me. We were sitting in his house in New Jersey discussing the possibility of Paramount Pictures' purchasing the rights to my play Fences. The subject was film directors. I said I wanted a black director for the film, and he said, "I don't want to hire nobody just 'cause they black." My response was immediate. "Neither do I," I said. What Mr. Murphy...

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“The Crookeds with the Straights”: Fences, Race, and the Politics of Adaptation

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pp. 205-229

In his suggestion in "I Want a Black Director" that racial positionality largely determines the nature of a white director's interpretive and, ultimately, filmic response to black authored texts, playwright August Wilson calls attention to the potential impact of ideological and cultural difference on filmic...

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Annotated Bibliography of Works by and about August Wilson

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pp. 230-266

Critical assessment of August Wilson's plays has increased in scope and in momentum over the last decade. Although he wrote his first play in 1973 (Recycle), serious attention to his work did not come until the early 1980s with the Broadway success of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (1981). Now Wilson is one of the most-written-about dramatists in America, capturing the respect...

Notes on Contributors

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pp. 267-268

Index to the Plays

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pp. 269-270

E-ISBN-13: 9781587291647

Publication Year: 1994