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“I know some things when I start. I know, let’s say, that the play is going to be a 1970s or a 1930s play, and it’s going to be about a piano, but that’s it. I slowly discover who the characters are as I go along.” AUGUST WILSON (1945-2005)

For writers who make it up as they go along (and I plead guilty), August Wilson‘s comment about his working method makes us feel…well, okay about not knowing where we’re going when we start.

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Born on April 27, 1945, Wilson grew up poor in Pittsburgh, dropped out of high school at 16, and educated himself at the Carnegie Library while working a series of menial jobs. In 1965, at age 20, he purchased a used typewriter for 10 dollars and started to compose poetry. A few years later, in 1968, he cofounded the Black Horizon Theatre and began to write and produce plays — starting with Recycling. Wilson went on to author many plays — including the Pulitzer Prize winning Fences (1987) and The Piano Lesson (1990). One of the all-time great American playwrights — with a career that spanned nearly 40 years — Wilson’s work continues to inspire and promote discussion. He passed away at age 60 in 2005, and has been the recipient of many posthumous tributes — including a theater in the New York City Broadway Theater District named in his honor.