August Wilson (and me)


Okay, warning – this is definitely going to be one of the more pressumptious and arrogant things I’ve said. But:

I think I write like August Wilson.

(finish punching me in the face)


I don’t do enough reading the writings of or studying of great playwrights. I really, really don’t. It’s bad. So the other night I snuggled up with my American Theater Reader – A gift from my new playwright friend, Molly Smith Metzler (editor of American Theater Magazine) – this reader is a collection of interviews with, and essays by playwrights.  It’s a pretty hefty book – hefty books tend to make me feel stupid, so I went first to  (the one / the only) August Wilson, interviewed by Suzan Lori Parks (also the one / only.)

And: not that I am an innovator, but I have never heard how a playwright works and thought to myself: that’s me! that’s how I do it too! Until this interview – (when asked about Joe Turner, AW said:)

“…I work like this—in collages. I just write stuff down and pile it up, and when I get enough stuff I spread it out and look at it and figure out how to use it. You get enough stuff and you start to build the scene and you don’t know where the scene’s going, and you don’t have any idea what’s going to follow after that.

But once you get the first scene done (or it might be the fourth scene in the play), then you can sort of begin to see other possibilities. Just like working in collages, you shift it around and organize it: This doesn’t go here; that speech doesn’t really belong to that person, it belongs to this person. So, very much like Romare Bearden, you move your stuff around on the pages until you have a composition that satisfies you, that expresses the idea of something and then—bingo—you have a play.”

It was just really comforting to me to read this. I am pretty much convinced I will never be a good playwriting teacher – as I am so terrible at being critical, thinking dramaturgically, articulating what I mean or meant  – I am more of the camp of ‘I don’t know, I just do it, map it out, skip around, write what feels right, and figure it out.’ Which is so not helpful, smarts-wise, but thankfully, it seems like I’m not totally alone!

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