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Sunday, October 02, 2005

AUGUST WILSON, 1945 - 2005

I am saddened and mourning the loss of one of America's greatest dramatists and writers: August Wilson.

Wilson heard voices. In his plays, we witnessed magnificent ensembles of characters who ennobled common men and the struggles of the soul to reconcile truth, history, politics, and individual conscience. Wilson voices lived best on the stage. Few have been translated to another medium because in their physical form, in the theatrical space, with the incredible crescendo of the speech, you had to be in the room. With Wilson's plays, you had to be there.

"I have to confess that I'm not a big movie person," Wilson said, "I don't go to a lot of films. And I don't know very much about the history of stage-to-film adaptations." It was widely known for many years that Eddie Murphy held the movie rights for Wilson's Pulitizer Prize winning FENCES. A great quote by Wilson about his dealings on FENCES when he described, you drive to the California, throw your script across the border and they throw the money back.

While Wilson's plays have not been adapted for film, his influence is huge. I attended the Eugene O'Neill National Playwright Conference the years August Wilson was there and his work thundered in our imaginations and touched many participants. In those years, the talk around O'Neil was that a Minnesota mafia had arrived. We adopted August Wilson as one of our own. Hearing his plays read, I was both awestruck and inspired. Wilson always made you feel that surge that filled the veins when history and passion came together.

When, as a fellow writer, August said, "Style ain't nothing but keeping the same idea from beginning to end. Everybody got it." he put us back on track.

Although nine of Wilson's plays were set in Pittsburgh and he lived out his final years in Seattle, he will always be important to our community after coming to St. Paul in 1978 and wrote his first play Jitney. Wilson's artistic voice and vision matured here in Minnesota, where he lived until the early 1990s. His impact on Penumbra Theater and Lou Bellamy keep his presence here resonating in our community life. Brother, you will always be a part of us.

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