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August Wilson

Completing the Twentieth-Century Cycle

Alan Nadel

Publication Year: 2010

Just prior to his death in 2005, August Wilson, arguably the most important American playwright of the last quarter-century, completed an ambitious cycle of ten plays, each set in a different decade of the twentieth century. Known as the Twentieth-Century Cycle or the Pittsburgh Cycle, the plays, which portrayed the struggles of African-Americans, won two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama, a Tony Award for Best Play, and seven New York Drama Critics Circle Awards. August Wilson: Completing the Twentieth-Century Cycle is the first volume devoted to the last five plays of the cycle individually—Jitney, Seven Guitars, King Hedley II, Gem of the Ocean, and Radio Golf—and in the context of Wilson's entire body of work.

 Editor Alan Nadel's May All Your Fences Have Gates: Essays on the Drama of August Wilson, a work Henry Louis Gates called definitive, focused on the first five plays of Wilson's cycle. This new collection examines from myriad perspectives the way Wilson's final works give shape and focus to his complete dramatic opus. It contains an outstanding and diverse array of discussions from leading Wilson scholars and literary critics. Together, the essays in Nadel's two volumes give Wilson's work the breadth of analysis and understanding that this major figure of American drama merits.



Herman Beavers

Yvonne Chambers

Soyica Diggs Colbert

Harry J. Elam, Jr.

Nathan Grant

David LaCroix

Barbara Lewis

Alan Nadel

Donald E. Pease

Sandra Shannon

Vivian Gist Spencer

Anthony Stewart

Steven C. Tracy

Dana Williams

Kimmika L. H. Williams-Witherspoon

Published by: University of Iowa Press

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pp. 1-13

At a turning point in his career, August Wilson was faced with a crucial decision. He had won the National Playwrights Conference competition, which gave his play, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, a staged reading at the Eugene O’Neill Theater in Connecticut....

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Beginning Again, Again :Business in the Street in Jitney and Gem of the Ocean

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pp. 14-29

The foreboding presence of Herald Loomis that haunts Joe Turner’s Come and Gone is explained, finally, in terms of spiritual, material, and historical deprivation. Loomis has been deprived of his song, his labor, and, most important for my purposes, his start. A...

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Contesting Black Male Responsibilities in August Wilson’s Jitney

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pp. 30-40

According to August Wilson, the function of black theater, not unlike that of white theater, is “to create art that responds to or illuminates the human condition” (Shannon and Williams, 191). American theater in general, he argues, has the power to hold the...

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Challenging the Stereotypes of Black Manhood: The Hidden Transcript in Jitney

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pp. 41-49

The media and popular culture propagate the myth that each medium is value free — without judgments or bias. As Michael Parenti suggests, however, what popular culture gives us through theater, literature, and media is “something that is neither purely entertainment...

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The Holyistic Blues of Seven Guitars

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pp. 50-70

Over the years, August Wilson has used remarkably consistent language in interviews in his commentary on the relation of blues to his work. For Wilson, the blues is “the African American’s response to the world before he started writing down his stuff” ...

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August Wilson’s Lazarus Complex

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pp. 71-96

Although King Hedley II is the eighth play in the Wilson cycle, it is the only play that Wilson created as a direct sequel to a previous play. King Hedley II repeats scenes, characters, and actions — preparation of a sacrificial animal, ritual murder, burial of the seed, robbing...

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If We Must Die: Violence as History Lesson in Seven Guitars and King Hedley II

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pp. 97-109

August Wilson’s Seven Guitars (1996) and King Hedley II (2001) each present a man: seductive guitarist Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton and headstrong ex-convict, King Hedley II, respectively, who negotiates for control of his environment. Floyd loses his struggle for...

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You Can’t Make Life Happen without a Woman: Paternity and the Pitfalls of Structural Design in King Hedley II and Seven Guitars

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pp. 110-122

There is considerable evidence that August Wilson’s King Hedley II (1999) is a sequel to Seven Guitars (1995). Together, they constitute the two works in August Wilson’s ten-play cycle whose plots are most directly linked, with a number of the same characters appearing...

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Turn Your Lamp Down Low! Aunt Ester Dies in King Hedley II. Now What?

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pp. 123-133

Didn’t he say Tuesday, baby? Go on I’ll see you on Tuesday” (prologue, Gem of the Ocean). Thus began an unceremonious introduction to one of August Wilson’s most enigmatic, most significant — and certainly one of the oldest — characters in his ten-play...

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Ritual Death and Wilson’s Female Christ

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pp. 134-144

With the approach of his sixtieth birthday, August Wilson declared, “There’s more life behind me than ahead. I think of dying every day. . . . At a certain age, you should be prepared to go at any time.” Within months, when he was told that he...

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Miss Tyler’s Two Bodies: Aunt Ester and the Legacy of Time

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pp. 145-151

Gem of the Ocean, the penultimate play in August Wilson’s dramatic cycle, gives Aunt Ester a body, a substance, a materiality, and a future as it establishes a history that identifies her genesis. In three other Wilson plays she is talked about, but remains out of view....

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August Wilson and the Demands of Capital

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pp. 152-161

The plays in the second half of August Wilson’s cycle emphasize more deeply than the first the idea of coming to terms with the realities of capital. While the earlier plays assume conditions of economic inequality, in the second half of the cycle characters must ...

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Finite and Final Interruptions: Using Time in Radio Golf

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pp. 162-172

In an interview with Suzan-Lori Parks shortly before August Wilson’s death, Wilson noted that he had consciously included characters from the African American middle class in his play Radio Golf (2005) — figures mostly absent from his Pittsburgh cycle. The earlier...

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An Exercise in Peripheral Vision: Loyalties, Ironies, and Sports in Radio Golf

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pp. 173-185

Sports have played an important symbolic role in the twentieth-century history of African Americans. From Jack Johnson becoming the first black holder of the world heavyweight boxing championship in 1908, to Joe Louis winning the title in 1937, to Jackie...

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Radio Golf in the Age of Obama

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pp. 186-206

On first viewing, Radio Golf raises some unique challenges seemingly separating it from the rest of August Wilson’s cannon. We enter into analysis of this work knowing that unlike Wilson’s other plays, this last play did not have the benefit of his nurturing...

Appendix: Discography for Seven Guitars

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pp. 207-210

Works Cited

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pp. 211-222

Notes on Contributors

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pp. 223-226


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pp. 227-228

E-ISBN-13: 9781587299353
E-ISBN-10: 1587299356
Print-ISBN-13: 9781587298752
Print-ISBN-10: 1587298759

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: pb