Penumbra Theatre Company © Author Adventures

August Wilson, A Self-Taught Writer

August Wilson was born in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He endured many hard times during his years growing up. His father was mostly absent from his life. He was the only African American student at his high school and was tormented by racist notes and taunts and finally left that school. He decided to leave a second high school when a teacher accused him of copying a paper, which he had actually written himself.

Instead of formal education, he managed to educate himself. He went regularly to the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh and immersed himself reading books written by Black writers. At age 20, he began writing more seriously. He would go to cafes, restaurants, and bars and write out his words and ideas on paper napkins and type them up later. He preferred this manner of writing because he could write without feeling like people were looking at him.

Eventually, he moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, to take a job at the Science Museum of Minnesota. In this position, he wrote children’s plays from Native American stories.

Inside the Penumbra Theatre © Author Adventures

The Penumbra Theatre Company

Wilson achieved great success in connection with the Penumbra Theatre, an African American theater company in St. Paul, housed in the Martin Luther King Center complex. He was able to write and stage plays there, such as Fences. He went on to earn two Pulitzer Prizes for his plays.

To learn more about August Wilson, pay a visit to the Penumbra Theatre and take in one of their plays. In the theater area are displays about Wilson and his life and work. The displays may be accessible during normal business hours during the week.

Other Local Attractions

If you can, visit one of the local restaurants in nearby Cathedral Hill. Have a cookie, or a meal, and listen to what is being said by people around you, and jot down some thoughts and ideas on a paper napkin in the spirit of August Wilson.

Cathedral Hill Neighborhood © Author Adventures

Penumbra Theatre is the seventh stop on Minnesota Author Adventure Trail, Part One.

 Rebecca Blake Beech