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Principles Of Accounting I (ACCT 101) Fences Script Lecture Notes 2

Sandra Watson
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Community College of Baltimore County

Principles Of Accounting I (ACCT 101)

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.
In 1981 and 1982, the first professional productions of Wilson’s plays were staged in
-little theaters in St. Paul and Pittsburgh. He also began sending his manuscripts to the
Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference, which ran workshops to develop the talent of
young American playwrights. The conference rejected his first plays but accepted his
work-in-progress, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. “To this day,” recalls Wilson, “that’s
about the highlight of my career.”
With Ma Rainey, Wilson began his collaboration with the African American director
of the Yale Repertory Theatre, Lloyd Richards, to whom he dedicated Fences: “For
Lloyd Richards, who adds to whatever he touches.” Wilson embarked on an ambitious
ten-play cycle dramatizing different decades in the history of African Americans in the
twentieth century. To date, the cycle consists of Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (1983), set
in 1911; Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1981), set in 1927; The Piano Lesson (1986), set in
1936; Seven Guitars (1995), set in 1938; Fences (1983), set in 1957; and Two Trains
Running (1989), set in 1969. As critic John Lahr acknowledges, “No other theatrical
testament to African American life has been so popular or so poetic or so penetrating.”



Principles Of Accounting I (ACCT 101) Fences Script Lecture Notes 2

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