boston.com Arts and Entertainment your connection to The Boston Globe

August Wilson diagnosed with terminal cancer

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson is suffering from terminal liver cancer, he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in an interview that ran yesterday. Wilson, 60, was diagnosed in June. Wilson said doctors told him then he had three to five months to live.

''It's not like poker; you can't throw your hand in," Wilson told the Post-Gazette. ''I've lived a blessed life; I'm ready."

Wilson recently completed his acclaimed 10-play cycle chronicling the African-American experience in the 20th century. The concluding play, ''Radio Golf," is currently running in Los Angeles after receiving its world premiere in New Haven in April.

Wilson won the Pulitzer Prize for drama twice, for ''Fences" and ''The Piano Lesson." ''Fences" also won a Tony Award for best play. In addition, Wilson is the recipient of seven New York Drama Critics Circle Awards and an Olivier Award.

Wilson has a longstanding Boston connection. Seven of his plays have been produced at the Huntington Theatre in advance of their New York premieres.

''Our 19-year relationship with August is one of the things the Huntington is proudest of," said the company's managing director, Michael Maso, in a telephone interview yesterday.

''The work itself is extraordinary, and the man himself is extraordinary. But August's impact isn't just as a playwright. He's somebody who's had a social message and a social impact far beyond the work itself. It's hard to imagine the breadth and scope of African-American theater that's being shown in this country now without August Wilson.

''Also, he's the first playwright to cross back and forth between resident theaters and Broadway. It's an astonishing legacy."

''He's definitely one of a kind," said Akiba Abaka, artistic director of Boston's Up You Mighty Race Performing Arts Company. Abaka served as Wilson's assistant during the 1998 Huntington production of ''Jitney."

''I'd just graduated from high school," Abaka said in a telephone interview. ''Not a lot of people would consider an 18-year-old for a position like that. He was very, very inspiring. He wasn't just about being an artist. It was about a larger responsibility. It's as if he's been a caretaker for a people and their story. He's done in literature what Dr. King did in civil rights."

A Pittsburgh native, Wilson set nine plays in his cycle in the city's Hill District. He began his career as a playwright after moving to St. Paul in 1978. He currently lives in Seattle.

Other plays in the cycle include ''Gem of the Ocean," ''Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," ''Seven Guitars," ''Two Trains Running," ''King Hedley II," and ''Joe Turner's Come and Gone."

''August was put on earth to accomplish something," Maso said of the playwright's recent completion of his cycle, ''and the astonishing thing is, he did it."

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES
 
Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives