On behalf of the Council of the Dramatists Guild
We read with great sadness of your illness. As your fellow writers, we wanted to make sure you knew how valuable you are to us, and how immeasurable your contribution has been both to the American theatre and the American culture as a whole. In pledging yourself to complete such a profound body of work, you have challenged us all to get our work done, without succumbing to the distractions of the commercial world, or the voices of the critics. Your work reminds us to tell the stories that only we know, to face the fury in our lives, and seek justice and understanding for our characters, saints and sinners alike. You have shown what can be accomplished by demanding that the alien world make a place for you.
Your plays have revealed an America that many of us would not otherwise have known. You have allowed white Americans to look behind the images we see of black culture, and you have given black Americans a chance to see their families and forbears onstage. You have written a history that would have remained unknown were it not for you, you have opened doors that still threaten to keep us living in separate rooms in this country. You have paved a road for travel by young black writers, and you have changed forever the way black Americans are portrayed onstage and understood in the world.
We collected a group of letters to send to you, then decided they might be too daunting for you to read at this point. But here are some excerpts, offered without attribution, and accompanied by our deepest prayers for your peace and comfort.
“August Wilson is the epitome of the men who people his plays. Strong, passionate, honorable, stubborn and good. I have recognized my father, my mother, my sister and brother in his characters. I’m grateful to him for showing me his poetic vision of a world in which I had always belonged but had never appreciated for its true value.”
“August Wilson has crawled into the soul of a woman, and written the most thrilling arias for women I have ever heard.”
“August Wilson’s stories have enriched my life and my understanding of the world. His people have entered my consciousness. I hear them talk, watch them move, in my mind’s eye now as I write this, like every vivid personality I’ve encountered in “real” life.
“August Wilson’s contribution to the American Theatre has been profound, both as a playwright and a builder of audiences.”
“His characters have lives and histories that go back for decades, generations — and the depth and complexity of their entanglements and connections is apparent in every gesture, as rich as life.”
“My students are stunned to encounter the verbal pyrotechnics, and the surprises. Oh the surprises.”
“…in the audience for an August Wilson play, people sit up and pay attention. They know they are in for something special. As the play unfolds, you can feel the temperature as he introduces a threatening character or peculiar behavior.”
“August Wilson’s characters appear at the moment at the moment in their lives when everyone is changed forever. He is a beacon of truthful, powerful storytelling.”
“August Wilson has been building a bridge, one span at a time. In the end, he will be able to open the entire structure and we’ll be able to cross, experiencing a hundred-year journey that will provide understanding not only for African-Americans but for all who are grappling with our lives in this troubled country.”
“His work is a treasure, his writing is poetic, mystical and startling I want to thank August Wilson for the most heart wrenching moments I’ve had in the theatre.”
“I loved his guts and candor. He wasn’t scared of anybody. I wish I had some of that.”
These notes go on and on, but the thoughts are the same – an outpouring of gratitude and yes, love, from people who have watched you and learned from you and counted on you for more laughing, more singing, more sex, more truth – more August Wilson.
I remember the day you acted as my escort, walking me up to the podium for a Pulitzer Prize celebration that New Dramatists was putting on. That was before you’d won both of yours, of course. But I remember the cool, noble guy who for that moment, made me feel able to give the keynote. I thank you for that bit of comfort, and on behalf of my students, I thank you the world you have preserved, the lives you have created, the vision you have shared, the example you have set. I wish we had had more conversations, but in their place, I have all these plays of yours, to read and read for the rest of my life. If I can do anything else, please let me know. I am your grateful friend,