Isn’t it funny that I feel comfortable calling you August, opposed to Mr. Wilson? I don’t know if you would necessarily appreciate that, maybe it seems a touch unprofessional but that is the beauty of connecting with other writers–you feel like you know one of the smallest, most intimate corners of another soul. Therefore, they feel like a friend.
I’ve read and seen numerous plays of yours. I first read your work in my final semester of college. It was The Piano Lesson and there was a heated debate about whether the piano should be sold, kept or used. It was interesting watching my whole class shift as each student spoke because there is something about literature, plays in particular, that leave so much open to interpretation. I have never seen other students listen to each other’s perspectives as thoroughly as I did throughout that course.
I saw a production of Two Trains Running at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. The acoustics were unfortunately shotty but I’ll never forget the final image of the actor running onstage with the stolen ham yelling “This one’s for Hambone!” and feeling overcome with pride and sorrow because Hambone never got his ham–what he earned and deserved–while he was still alive. My professor sat back in class the following session saying how he felt your plays were music and he was listening to a grand opera while hearing your everyday voices. I felt that too, even with the issues of acoustics.
As you may or may not know, Viola Davis won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar this year for her role in Fences. The following afternoon I watched it for the first time and I was floored–you wove the most intricate web of so many topics humans encounter each day with one another with a brand of grace I have never seen. I watched the movie with my brother and we couldn’t help but think of my father when we listened to Troy–his push for working with his hands, making something of yourself out of trades, always hesitant and sheepish at the idea of your blood moving above and beyond because you were scared to do it for yourself.
Your plays focus on facets of the black experience but the most amazing parts of your love and passion for language and community bleed into anyone that watches your work. I see my father and my brothers and my garbage man in a different way, I see sacrifice and love in a different way and even if I’m not living in the 50’s or black I still feel your work rooting deep down in me, and I’m thankful that you wrote your voices and stories so I could feel them too.
While I was walking throughout New Orleans yesterday it hit me what my first play will be about: my home. The house I grew up in, the rot, where it will go when my father is gone, what everyone who lived in that house wanted but knew we could never have.
Through all of my future personal work I want to remember the shortest story you ever wrote. It goes:
“The streets that Balboa walked were his own private ocean, and Balboa was drowning.”
Thank you for everything you have done. I have Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom on my bookshelf–best believe that is next on my list.