Letter #1 – Welcome to SG 685: August Wilson American Century Cycle!

Dear all:

A hearty welcome to SG 685: August Wilson American Century Cycle!

Where shall we start?

I have pdfs I can provide for the first two plays, Jitney and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. You may wish to have your own copy and there are hardback and paperback versions of each play available at online sellers, local bookstores, and public libraries.

The study group involves doing the hard work at home of reading each play on your own, then coming together for a robust discussion. A key part of the journey is reading a play per week for ten weeks and getting together once a week for a no holds barred chat.

As the study group leader I claim no monopoly on understanding these plays other than familiarity from four previous sessions of the study group. The wealth of this group is ALWAYS the live experiences of the study group participants. In some regards, for a few minutes each week, we can imagine taking part in a pure democracy! But you must do your homework!

Pause. Deep breath.

As you may have figured out, I have a deep love for these plays. I saw Fences on Broadway with James Earl Jones in 1987. My wife (she was my girlfriend at the time) and I saw the first UK production of a Wilson play, Two Trains Running, in London in 1996. We saw Radio Golf performed in Baltimore in 2005 while it was still being workshopped at local theaters. And others.

There is something a bit of timelessness, and even colorlessness, in Wilson’s plays, a topic we will discuss from time to time, but we will always return to the base, to the decades of the 20th century, and to the Pittsburgh community that produced Wilson in his youth.

I can go on and on. Let me pause again.

We’ll be doing the plays in the order in which they were written, beginning with Jitney, the only play written in the same decade in which it is set. In the following days I’ll send out a revised list of the plays and the weeks they will be assigned. And there will be non-required readings from time to time. For now, here is a link to my most recent blog post which also contains a YouTube playlist of Wilson’s 4B’s for background:


Again, Aloha! Welcome! and Bon Voyage!


p.s. Feel free to write me at any point.

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