Some pre-discussion notes on King Hedley II (5.8.2019)

I’d like to focus on just three elements of this penultimate play in the American Century Cycle. First, there is the structure of the play, especially with the single narrator Prologue by Stool Pigeon, formerly known as Canewell the harmonica player in Seven Guitars, an expert on roosters. I’ve decided that if this play were a Greek tragedy, and some may argue that it may be, Stool Pigeon fulfills the role of the Greek Chorus, and of Coryphaeus, the leader of the Greek Chorus, in the Prologue, and everywhere he speaks in the play. Let that sink in for a minute, then go back through the play and attribute all Stool Pigeon’s speaking parts to the Greek Chorus, beginning at the very end of Scene 1, “Lock your doors! Close your windows! Turn your lamps down low! We in trouble now. Aunt Ester died! She died! She died! She died!

In brief, the function of the chorus in Greek Drama is to provide commentary on actions and events occurring in the play, to allow time and space to the playwright to control the atmosphere and expectations of the audience, to allow the playwright to prepare the audience for key moments in the storyline, and to underline certain elements and downplay others. Go back and re-read Stool Pigeon’s parts and it becomes evident that is the role he is playing. And oh, by the way, Stool Pigeon often quoted the Bible throughout the play. But guess what? None of those quotes are actually from the Bible that most folks know about. I postulated in an earlier session that his quotes may actually be from The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ, a book written in the early 1900’s that became popular among New Age spiritual groups in the 70’s and 80’s.

The second element that stood our during my reading was King’s insistence, first to Mister (in Act 1 Scene 1) and later to Elmore (in Act 2 Scene 1), that he had a halo above his head. (Could have also been early signs of glaucoma!) King is alerting folks around him (and in the audience) that he has been singled out for a special purpose, a special mission in life. The play is a tragedy for King. Nothing works out right. He has been lied to all his life about his parentage. He has resorted to a life of petty crime. Now his wife has aborted the baby he had high hopes of raising, possibly his last chance at redemption. He had a relationship with Aunt Ester, and she gave him a gold key ring, but without a key (we’ll get back to that in the third element).

Spoiler alert! At the end of the play King dies a grisly, ritualistic death, cementing his personal tragedy. But there is yet redemption in King’s ultimate price payment. His spilled blood (he is shot in the neck) makes its way to the grave of Aunt Ester’s cat and the cat returns to life (magical realism) with a meow as the lights go down and the set fades to black. Maybe it means there is a possibility for a resurrection of Aunt Ester and salvation for her people. We have to read Act Three to know for sure.

OK. The third element. The Key to the Mountain. Early in Act 2, Scene 5, King returned to the yard, having learned earlier that Leroy was his real father, and carrying his false father’s machete, loaded for bear (Elmore). Scene 5 has competing choruses, spurring King on to two alternate and opposite outcomes. Mister, son of Red Carter in Seven Guitars, tells King, “Blood for blood,” urging him to fulfill a destiny of extracting revenge, that will surely result in his death. Meanwhile, Stool Pigeon reminds King, “You got the Key to the Mountain,” which is forgiveness even in the face of a great wrong, an alternate destiny that results in life. King chooses forgiveness, sticking the machete into the ground. In turn, Elmore chooses to forgive, firing his gun into the ground and not towards King. Then, confused from the sounds in the yard, Ruby appears and fires the pistol Mister gave her, without looking, fatally shooting King in the throat. In the battle of competing choruses, Mister wins out, Kings fulfills his destiny, and his sacrifice restores life to Aunt Ester.

Notes from Session #1: https://augustwilsonstudygroup.wordpress.com/2018/04/23/class-notes-for-king-hedley-ii/

Notes from Session #2: https://augustwilsonstudygroup.wordpress.com/2018/11/11/notes-on-king-hedley-ii-11-11-2018/

Here is the YouTube playlist:

Playlists (YouTube) for August Wilson’s American Century Cycle

Gem of the Ocean: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0Lvs-e_eIXbpLBU1gTGwfhRV207HTXPb

Joe Turner’s Come and Gone: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0Lvs-e_eIXaWJ0J5IXBUUpwoVe-klNmc

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0Lvs-e_eIXb3E8p4pv7MmgNPoDUlqCB7

The Piano Lesson: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0Lvs-e_eIXYBNIkZcDVM0y_xff-c1zCi

Seven Guitars: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0Lvs-e_eIXYQzNGKFRhdwbLYZ1mz6hLK

Fences: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0Lvs-e_eIXYPmItHweBOyfAwDJ-x1qwO

Two Trains Running: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0Lvs-e_eIXZOBWNf_EwGXjngVAQKrvbC

Jitney:   https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0Lvs-e_eIXZapfkM43eU0KVt5QWBxdlK

King Hedley II: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0Lvs-e_eIXaqsHCCMTcpz7qemeLe19xv

Radio Golf: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0Lvs-e_eIXbZDGZ3NZTVicN5q755bnrd

Notes on Jitney (5.3.2019)

Some thoughts to discuss:

Background and lifecycle of the play itself. The first edition of Jitney was completed in the 70’s and performed in 1982 by a small theater group in Pittsburgh. Wilson completed writing that early version of the play in ten days. Although it became the first completed play in the century cycle, at the time of its writing Wilson had no idea he’d be writing a play for each decade. Following his success with a produced play, Wilson declared himself a playwright and submitted Jitney to the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis in the mid 80’s, receiving a prize award of $2500. But when he submitted it to the National Playwrights’ Conference of the O’Neill Theater Center in New York it was rejected. Twice. He put it away and worked on other plays. Then, after completing Seven Guitars in 1985, he took a second look at Jitney and revised it, making the second act longer and adding several monologues throughout. Jitney was produced off Broadway in 2000, directed by Marion McClinton. In 2017 it was produced on Broadway as a revival, where it earned the Tony for Best Revival.

Characters as individuals. Jim Becker, called, “Becker,” manages the jitney station, which he has run for several years. He is a community pillar-type guy, retired from the mill, a homeowner, and deacon at his church. He settles squabbles between the other drivers. Doub, one of the drivers, even-tempered, is a Korean War veteran. Fielding, another driver, is an alcoholic, and was formerly a tailor who clothed for Count Basie and Billy Eckstine. Turnbo, yet another driver, gets involved in everybody’s business and also has a hot temper when he feels he has been disrespected (which is most of the time). YoungBlood (Darnell Williams), is the youngest driver on the staff. He is a Vietnam veteran in his late 20’s. He works several jobs to support his young family. Rena is YoungBlood’s girlfriend and the mother of his young son, Jesse. Shealy uses the jitney station payphone to run his numbers operation. Philmore is a frequent jitney customer and a doorman at a local hotel. Booster (Clarence Becker), Becker’s son, is in his early 40’s. An outstanding scholar athlete in high school, he has just completed a 20-year prison sentence for murder.

Characters as groups and relationships. A key relationship in the play is the father-son relationship between Becker and his son, Booster. Booster showed great promise in his youth and earned a scholarship to Pitt. But in his first year he gets tangled up with a young coed and when they are caught in a compromising position, she claims rape. Long story short, he ends up murdering her and spending 20 years in prison. Pops is extremely disappointed and never visits Booster in the 20 years of his incarceration. When Booster is released, they attempt in a staccato way to rebuild their relationship.

Rena and YoungBlood are learning to be a couple and their relationship in the play floods and ebbs. Doub and Youngblood, both veterans but of different generations, have an interesting almost father-son relationship. Becker and Youngblood have a similar father-son relationship. Fielding has an on and off relationship with Becker, his employer basically. In that light, Becker has an ongoing relationship with each driver. Turnbo has a very toxic relationship with YoungBlood. Shealy and Becker are pretty much polar opposites.

Compressed space considerations (play setting compared to others in the series). Each play in the series is set in a compressed space where characters sort of bounce off each other. The Jitney Station is no exception and if anything, breaks new ground for starkness and sterility for a Wilson play setting, in my opinion. That starkness and sterility adds to the plot flow as much as anything. The payphone is a handy device for pushing the action along. Jitney orders come in, as do numbers orders, as do phone calls from a variety of callers, family members, potential employees, outside contacts. Today, of course, Jitney operations would exist exclusively online (like Uber and Lyft) without the requirement for a station, much less a physical payphone.

Current events of the time, i.e., urban renewal and gentrification, incarceration, returning Vietnam Veterans, informal economy, fratricidal arguments. Urban renewal is a primary motive force in the play. The prospective boarding up and eventual destruction of the jitney station has everybody on edge as it may mean a potential end of employment and an end to an essential community service that has become a means of production. Mention is made of other business getting boarded up in the community. Eventually, whole communities are lost to urban renewal, with the promise, of course, that substitutes, especially for housing, will be forthcoming. In retrospect, we can see the beginning, not only of lost of business communities, but also of the problem of homelessness that plagues many American cities today. Spatial deconcentration, a by-product of urban renewal, resulted in the break-up of communities, of economies, of families.

It was also a time of returning Vietnam War veterans, many looking for a reward for their service overseas. We see that representation in YoungBlood, but we also see it in Booster, returning the world, as the vets used to say, trying to figure things out after 20 years of incarceration. Returning vets, returning prisoners, looking for jobs where there were none, resorted to making ends meet in the informal economy, some call it the black or gray economy, outside the rules and regulations of regular business. Jitney companies’ emerged, providing rides and jobs for drivers in a place where there were few transportation options. August Wilson said, “The important thing was for me to show five guys working and creating something out of nothing.” This was one aspect of the informal economy, and perhaps a positive one. There were negative ones: selling drugs, prostitution and the beginning of human trafficking all emerged during this same period.

The repetition of fratricidal arguments in the struggling community, conflicting egos, some actually trying to do right, is represented in Jitney in the big argument between YoungBlood and Turnbo that almost ends in catastrophe. In Scene 3 of Act One, murder and tragedy are avoided but we have a good model for how normal differences coupled with misunderstandings can get escalated into chaos.

Central ethical theme of responsibility, even when options for exploration are limited. We will discuss this at length in our group meeting. Wilson, through Becker, Youngblood, Doub, and Booster (and others) dedicates lengthy sections of monologue to the theme of responsibility, moral and ethical.

Checkers vs. chess and other games of strategy. Just a short mention of checkers is in the play, but it made me consider some of the ramifications of game-playing in the series and how it evolves over the decades, from the hambone of Joe Turner, to the card-playing in Seven Guitars, to sports in Fences, to checkers in Jitney, to golf later in Radio Golf.

Notes from Session #1:
https://augustwilsonstudygroup.wordpress.com/2019/05/03/notes-on-jitney-5-3-2019/

Notes from Session #2:
https://augustwilsonstudygroup.wordpress.com/2018/09/23/notes-on-jitney-for-9-24-2018/

https://augustwilsonstudygroup.wordpress.com/2018/09/25/post-class-notes-jitney-9-24-2018/

post-notes on Two Trains Running (4.26.2019)

OK. Just some random notes and thoughts after our group discussion to “close out” Two Trains Running.

Going through each character and his/her contribution(s) to the various plotlines was an interesting way to summarize the play and open up various lines of discussion. It was mentioned that outside his long monologue about “niggers and guns,” Holloway makes no mention of gun violence like some of the other characters. We spoke at some length about the possible causes of Hambone’s affliction and I think we agreed that the injustice he experienced may not have been sufficient cause for his obsessive fixation(s) in the play. “He gon’ give me my ham!” Upon Hambone’s death we learn that he had lots of cuts and scars on his body. That was connected to Risa’s cuts and self-mutilation, scarification rituals, etc., which led our discussion to the topic of anorexia. Sterling, it was noted, had a special connection to Hambone, and he also had a special connection, attraction to Risa. Risa was very sympathetic and caring with Hambone. The three, Risa, Hambone, and Sterling, formed a sort of mutual triad.

Wolf, the numbers runner, was pretty much a static character throughout. He has a special, though understated affection for Risa, always saying nice things to her and claiming to have a special knowledge of her among the menfolk. Equally, Wolf has a distaste for West and doesn’t want him handing his body when he dies. Memphis was connected in our discussion to Seth (in Joe Turner) and Caesar Wilkes (in Gem) as a self-made man. He was also described as often mean and cruel to both Hambone and to Risa and it was obvious he was hateful to his wife, though his own behavior towards her escaped his own awareness. The play directions say he has “impeccable logic,” and that may be Wilsonian tongue in cheek. Risa is referred to in the group as the Victorian heroine, long suffering, and angelic. She keeps the diner running and has no fear for her job, despite Memphis’s continuous complaints. She reminds me of Black Mary in Gem, enduring the constant flow of criticisms from Aunt Ester. And West, the undertaker, has a storied history, from petty crime and marginal living to upright and successful entrepreneurism. We postulated that his black gloves may be a cover for eczema or skin damage from embalming fluid. He pays “Mason” to guard his funeral parlor.

Now for some notes I took in the actual text.

Memphis is the father of four children. Still his wife left him. Memphis resents that Risa donates money to Prophet Samuel. A man named Zanelli runs the jukebox service. Sterling is “fresh” out of prison and that socialization is a big part of his personality. He is caught in a Catch-22 with regard to work and union membership in Pittsburgh. Holloway is a big advocate of Aunt Ester’s counseling services. He draws the link between Aunt Ester and Prophet Samuel. I scribbled in the margins, “Does Hambone represent blacks who demand reparations?” Memphis mentions a Mr. Stovall, also mentioned in The Piano Lesson. Early in Scene Two Memphis mentions “two trains running every day.” Holloway’s mention of “stacking niggers” reminds me of mass incarceration. It also brings to mind images of the middle passage, kidnapped Africans packed like sardines in the hull of slave ships. Memphis says “dead men don’t have birthdays” in reference to a Malcolm X celebration. Holloway points out the superiority of Aunt Ester to Malcolm X anyway. Sterling mentions the time he spent at Toner Institute. Memphis’s failure to understand the clause in his deed referencing eminent domain makes me question his level of literacy. Memphis’s monologue at the end of Act One is especially poignant and shows he is at least capable of deep feeling.

Hambone learns to say “United we stand,” but he never repeats “Malcolm Lives.” West mentions burying an elderly lady, Miss Sarah Degree, also mentioned in Seven Guitars and the person who provides home remedies. In real life, Sarah Degree was a lady in Wilson’s childhood who took neighborhood children to Sunday School and church. Wolf speaks of two lady friends he has in Atlanta and quotes, without attribution, Floyd Barton’s song, “That’s all right.” Risa says Prophet Samuel was “sent by God to help the colored people get justice.” Holloway believes in the supernatural. West tells Sterling to get a small cup instead of a ten-gallon bucket, advice that Wilson received from one of his mentors during his youth. Risa plays Aretha Franklin’s Take a Look on the juke box, dances with and kisses Sterling. Risa refuses to see Hambone in the casket, just as she refused to see Prophet Samuel, saying in both cases, “I don’t want to see him that way.”

notes on Two Trains Running (4.25.2019)

Looking for a different angle this reading.

I think i may find it before Friday morning! Some critics say Two Trains Running doesn’t capture the vitality of the 60’s the way, say, Fences captures the angst of the 50’s. I have to give that some thought. The play is set in 1969, after all the excitement of the 60’s, the greening of American, the civil rights activism, Woodstock, all that stuff has come and gone. Well, maybe not Woodstock. The Kennedy’s have been killed and there is no more hope for Camelot. King and Malcolm X have been killed and those dreams ended. I think by 1969 all the political fantasies are over and done with and people, a bit dazed, are just trying to find their way to some equilibrium, any steady state that will let them get on with their lives. I think this juncture is where Wilson has placed his 60’s play.

There is a passing reference to King, sandwiched in between long monologues about Malcolm X. Memphis says,

“They killed Martin. If they did that to him you can imagine what they do to me or you.”

Earlier he says of Malcolm X,

” Malcolm X is dead. Malcolm ain’t having no more birthdays. Dead men don’t have birthdays.”

And later he deconstructs the Freedom, Justice and Equality of the Nation of Islam by saying 1) freedom is heavy; 2) ain’t no justice; and 3) equality is a nonstarter because people are just not equal to one another. Then he adds a a crown to the Black is Beautiful movement by saying its followers sound as if they are trying to convince themselves their blackness is beauty.

Holloway has the solution. When asked why he didn’t become a Malcolm X follower in the early days of his preaching, Holloway responds that he didn’t need to as long as he knew the way to Aunt Ester’s.

That brings us to an important point in the play. Participation in the mass movements of the day is downplayed, and support for local leaders, like Prophet Samuel and Aunt Ester is highlighted. Risa has been paying tithes to Prophet Samuel’s church, not because she believes in some supernatural intervention, but because she believes Prophet Samuel helps people with legal issues on a day to day basis. Holloway recommends Aunt Ester because he can see a change she made in his relationship with his father. These are tangible benefits with certain payoff. Hambone wants his ham and he petitions for it daily with Mr Lutz. I think Memphis’ logic would say even Hambone has a better chance of achieving his objective than some others in the play.

In Scene Three, Sterling makes a reference to Toner Institute, a local orphanage where he grew up. Again, such a place really did exist. It provided a home/school environment to boys from broken or disruptive homes and remained in existence until 1977. In later years, enrollment shrunk along with county and state subsidies in a time of rising prices.

Then there is the ever-present issue of urban renewal breathing down the backs of not only the diner owner, Memphis, but all the folks for which the diner has become a type of second home.  In most places where it was applied, urban renewal became a sort of pipe dream whose goals were never achieved. Long standing neighborhoods were destroyed, families were decimated along with institutions like churches, community centers, and businesses.

This all became a part of the overall environmental malaise of the late 60’s, which, it might be argued, is accurately depicted in the Wilson play. The title, Two Trains Running, may suggest that there are some options available, both in terms of mobility, upward or downward, and in terms of simple navigation. Memphis has a dream of going back south to reclaim his farm, but once he gets his compensation his focus changes to getting a bigger restaurant in a better commercial part of town. By the way, reflecting back on last week’s discussion, there is an indication that Memphis is functionally illiterate when, at the end of Act One, he makes mention of a clause in the deed to his property referencing eminent domain that he doesn’t really understand. Similarly, the deed to his property down south also had a “hidden” clause that perhaps was only hidden to him because he could not read.

Stovall is mentioned and I wonder is it the same Stovall as in The Piano Lesson? Also, Sarah Degree is mentioned and she was mentioned previously in Seven Guitars as the provider of home remedies to Hedley.

Notes from Session #1: https://augustwilsonstudygroup.wordpress.com/2018/04/09/some-takeaways-from-two-trains-running/

Notes from Session #2: https://augustwilsonstudygroup.wordpress.com/2018/10/29/notes-on-two-trains-running-10-29-2018/

Carole’s excellent background notes: https://augustwilsonstudygroup.wordpress.com/2018/10/31/carole-horns-notes-on-two-trains-running-with-notes-links-and-annotations/

A very good review on the “aboutness”of the play: http://phindie.com/11061-dear-white-people-two-trains-running-is-not-about-race/

OK. Let’s stop here and discuss.

notes on Fences (4.11.2019)

So much has been written on Fences. And small wonder. Five Tonys, five Drama Desk awards, the Pulitzer prize in its 1987 premier, then ten Tonys and four Drama Desk Awards in its 2010 revival. Its film adaptation earned four Oscar nominations and two Golden Globes nominations. A huge success by all measures and so many wonderful reviews, and academic articles.

We are not professional critics. We just like a good production, a good story, a good evening spent at the theater. Fences scores on all three.

It was my good fortune to catch the James Earl Jones – led performance on Broadway in late 1987. I missed the revival in 2010, but caught the film adaptation a couple of years ago.

OK, let’s take the plunge.

Our discussions of the five plays so far cause me to focus in the first instance on family relationships. Here we have the Troy-Bono relationship, the father-son relationships, the Troy-Rose marriage dynamic, the Troy-Gabriel relationship. These relationships all involve Troy, the flawed Greek god of the play. These relationships are all worthy of note.

Troy and Bono go back to the time they shared in prison. They work together on the garbage truck. They are best friends and they are both comfortable in expressing their affection for one another. When Bono sees Troy headed for trouble with his “side chick,” Bono calls him out on it and reminds him of his obligation to his wife. Troy accepts the warning advice in good spirit (but does nothing about it). Bono is a friend to Troy until the end, arranging the pall bearers for Troy’s funeral, even though they become somewhat distant after Troy’s transgression with Alberta and the birth of Raynell.

There are two father-son relationships, both complex and complicated. Troy’s oldest son, Lyons, comes around on payday to hit his father up for loans. Troy was in prison during Lyon’s upbringing and may feel a twinge of guilt about not being around. Lyons styles himself a musician, but he is not all that good at it, at least not good enough to make a living. So he bums money from his now-present father.

Troy’s youngest son, Cory, is a high schooler who wants to go to college on a football scholarship. Of course, Troy discourages his efforts because Troy thinks he got a raw deal in baseball, failing because of his age to make the transition fron the Negro League to the Majors. Troy blames race discrimination and wants to shield Cory from a similar disappointment. Cory tells his father things have changed (and they have) and he wants to be able to take advantage of new opportunities. Cory also wants his dad to buy a television for the family on credit. Cory wants to move into the modern world while Troy lives with excuses.

Troy and Rose. Troy is unfaithful to his wife. He comes up with a tightly woven explanation but it doesn’t carry water and it doesn’t pass the smell test. It stinks to high heaven. Rose is faithful to Troy, even after she realizes that he is not everything she had hoped he would be in a husband. She makes the best of a flawed situation.

Yet, many people sympathize with Troy in the end. “At least he stayed around and tried to do right,” folks say. “He wasn’t absent like Wilson’s own dad was,” they rationalize. “He did the best he could with limited means and a harsh external racist environment,” some might inveigh. We even transfer our sympathy to Denzel Washington at the Oscars ceremony as he gets passed over for Best Actor and for the film as Best Film because in our minds, Denzel has become Troy Maxson, the actor has become the character, and we see him there, flawed but somehow redeemable.

That, my friends is the power of great writing (and great acting). “It is in the nature of great acting, Shaw said, that we are not to see this woman as Ophelia, but Ophelia as this woman.”

OK. We’ll save the Troy-Gabriel relationship and all rest for our discussion.

Notes from Session #1: https://augustwilsonstudygroup.wordpress.com/2018/03/24/some-takeaway-notes-from-fences/

Notes from Session #2: https://augustwilsonstudygroup.wordpress.com/2018/10/08/notes-on-week-4-fences/

Carole Horn’s notes are amazing! https://augustwilsonstudygroup.wordpress.com/2018/10/10/carole-horns-notes-on-fences-olli-au10-11-2018/

some post-Seven Guitars thoughts (4.6.2019)

A couple of quick bookmarks to insert before moving on from Seven Guitars.

I haven’t seen it mentioned in the body of literature, but August Wilson often makes a point to applaud literacy, reading and writing, and to decry, if not condemn, illiteracy. This may seem an almost obvious position for a playwright to take, and it may appear that literacy is an automatic “state” to assume in an industrialized democracy like the United States. But a quick look at the statistics tells a different story and highlights the importance Wilson places on literacy in character and plot development.

In Fences, for example, Troy cannot read or write. Could that be the real reason why he wasn’t able to transfer to white league professional baseball? We don’t know and Wilson doesn’t tell us. In Seven Guitars, Floyd is illiterate and it is the cause of many of his woes. He can’t get his daily compensation because he couldn’t read to know to keep a certain letter. He failed to negotiate a deal for royalties on his first hit because he didn’t understand the process or the business itself of recording. He is a veteran of WW2, but he didn’t acquire any transferable skills from his army hitch because he couldn’t read, he couldn’t acquire information from texts. His misfortunes, it may be argued, stem more from illiteracy than from poverty, or racial discrimination, or any other cause.

We get the impression from The Piano Lesson that Boy Willie was functionally illiterate. He could farm, but there was nothing he could do, by his own admission, in the city (where literacy skills are required). Boy Willie thought it absurd that Maretha could only play what was written on the paper. In Ma Rainey, Levee was illiterate, though he could read and write music. In the end, he kills the only band member who could read and write, Toledo, acting out a rage he couldn’t contain from failing to get a side deal on some music he had written. I’ll have to go back and review Joe Turner and Gem but I am almost certain there are some references to literacy.

OK, that’s bookmark #1. Here is bookmark #2.

I think August Wilson was an archivist par excellence. He gave a lot of credit to libraries, and specifically to public libraries, but his talent was in creating and storing records, records of human life in each 10 year period of the 20th century. Seven Guitars is full of lists of things pertinent to life in the 1940’s. In The Piano Lesson the piano is itself an archive, a storage of family events across the years. Ma Rainey introduces us to “the record” and the recording process, a store of information that is transportable and reproducible. On and on.

These are two “properties” of Wilson’s writing that I hope to develop more fully in the days and weeks ahead.