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Fences.pdf - Fences Screenplay by August Wilson Lecture Notes 2

James Moore
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AUGUST WILSON (b. 1945) was born in a slum in Pittsburgh and raised with his five brothers and sisters by his African American mother, Daisy Wilson, who supported her children by working as a janitor downtown in the county courthouse. His father, a white man, abandoned the family; Wilson remembered that he was “a sporadic presence in our house.” Wilson was also nurtured by his stepfather, David Bedford, who worked in the city sewer department. Bedford had been a football star in high school but spent twentythree years in prison after killing a man in a robbery attempt.

Wilson credits his mother for teaching him about black pride. He tells a story about the time she won a brand-new Speed Queen washing machine in a radio competition. When the station discovered she was black, they substituted a certificate for a secondhand washer. Wilson’s mother was doing her family’s laundry at the sink in her home on a scrub board, but she refused the radio’s offer rather than be treated so unfairly.

At age fifteen, Wilson dropped out of school, took a job running a freight elevator, and began to spend hours in the “Negro Section” of the Pittsburgh Public Library, where he read Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, and James Baldwin. Back in Pittsburgh after three years in the army, he bought his first typewriter for twenty dollars and began to write poetry before gradually shifting over, on the advice of a friend, to writing plays.

Wilson later told interviewer Will Haygood that what “pained” him enough to start his writing was the idea of African Americans streaming out of the South, trying to forget their past: “My mother came from North Carolina. And all my friends were always from someplace: Alabama, Georgia. And this is what happened invariably: One of my classmates would come to school and say, ‘My grandmother died.

And we got some land.’ I’d say, ‘When you gonna move?’ They’d say, ‘We gonna sell it.'” It was Wilson’s belief that “we should have stayed in the South. We attempted to plant what in essence was an emerging culture, a culture that had grown out of our experience of two hundred years as slaves in the South. The cities of the urban North have not been hospi-table.

If we had stayed in the South, we could have strengthened the culture.” In Fences, Wilson dramatizes the continuing -struggle of African Americans to find good jobs and hold together families forty years after leaving the South in the “Great Migration” from 1910 to 1930, when the black population -doubled and tripled in Pittsburgh, Chicago, and New York City.



Fences.pdf - Fences Screenplay by August Wilson Lecture Notes 2

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