Seattle Public Library

August Wilson Reading Challenge Book List

Librarians at Seattle Public Library have curated a list of media to accompany our August Wilson Reading Challenge. Join the challenge and honor Black History Month this February by reading all of Wilson's American Century Cycle plays, plus explore additional films and interviews to further engage with the playwright and his work.

Though all Seattle Public Library locations are currently closed, learn about SPL's curbside pickup service.

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Gem of the Ocean 
by Wilson, August 
Book - 2015

Aunt Ester, the community’s spiritual advisor, attempts to help Citizen Barlow find spiritual redemption through the awakening of the City of Bones. Performed at Seattle Rep in 2007.

 

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Joe Turner's Come and Gone 
by Wilson, August
Book - 1988

The second play in the cycle, Joe Turner's Come and Gone takes place in a boarding house where residents and families struggle to find one another and their individual places in society. Performed at Seattle Rep in 1987.

 

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Ma Rainey's Black Bottom 
by Wilson, August
Book - 1985

The only play set outside of Pittsburgh’s Hill District. In a Chicago recording studio, the characters deal with issues of politics, philosophy, art, and religion set to the backdrop of historical exploitation of black musicians by white managers. Performed at Seattle Rep in 2005.

 

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The Piano Lesson 
by Wilson, August
Book - 2015

In the aftermath of the Great Depression, a family fights over whether or not to sell a piano, which has carved into it the faces of their great-grandparents who were enslaved. Performed at Seattle Rep in 1993 and 2015.

 

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Seven Guitars
by Wilson, August
Book - 1996

The play opens with Floyd Barton’s funeral, transitioning into a series of flashbacks, illustrating the events that led up to his death. Performed at Seattle Rep in 1997.

 

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Fences 
by Wilson, August
Book - 2016

The plot centers on a difficult father-son relationship, with the discussion of racial barriers in the workplace and professional sports as the backdrop. Performed at Seattle Rep in 1986 and 2010.

 

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Two Trains Running
by Wilson, August
Book - 2007

Set in the restaurant of Memphis Lee, this play covers civil unrest and the changing political philosophy of urban blacks. Performed at Seattle Rep in 1991 and 2018.

 

Jitney 
by Wilson, August
Book - 2001

Faced with the devastating news that the city is about to shut down their unlicensed cab company, Becker and his drivers struggle to confront an uncertain future. Performed at Seattle Rep in 2002 and 2020.

 

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King Hedley II
by Wilson, August
Book - 2005

One of Wilson’s darker plays, it features Hedley, an ex-con trying to rebuild his life. The play overlaps with characters from Seven Guitars. Performed at Seattle Rep in 2000.

 

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Radio Golf 
by Wilson, August
Book - 2007

Harmond Wilks, a lawyer running to be the first Black mayor of Pittsburgh, is eager to declare the remaining homes of the Hill District “a blight” in order to make room for commercial redevelopment. One of the remaining homes is the ancestral house of Aunt Ester. Performed at Seattle Rep in 2006.

 

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August Wilson - American Dream, in Black and White 
Streaming Video - 2005

Interviews with Wilson and fellow writers provide insights into the African American experience. Includes scenes from Jitney, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Fences, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, and Two Trains Running.

 

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August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand 
Streaming Video - 2015

This documentary explores the legacy of Wilson with interviews, dramatic readings and rare footage. Features James Earl Jones, Phylicia Rashad, Laurence Fishburne, and Viola Davis.

 

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August Wilson - Writing and the Blues  
Streaming Video - 2005

Wilson has long acknowledged the influence of blues music on his work. In this 1989 interview, he explores how he drew on this musical form to craft authentic representations of Black life in his plays.

 

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Fences 
DVD - 2017

Denzel Washington directed and starred in this 2016 film adaptation of Wilson's play. The film garnered 4 Academy Award nominations, and Viola Davis won Best Supporting Actress for her role as Rose Maxson.

 

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In Black and White - Conversations With African American Writers. Part Five August Wilson 
Streaming Video - 2012

In this documentary Wilson talks about his childhood, self-education, writing, and work on the American Century Cycle (also known as the “Pittsburgh Cycle”) plays.

 

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August Wilson Twentieth-century Cycle Plays 
A Reader's Companion  
by Sternlicht, Sanford 
Book - 2015

This literary guide examines Wilson’s life as well as the themes, settings, and characters in his American Century Cycle plays.

 

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Smoketown 
The Untold Story of the Other Great Black Renaissance  
by Whitaker, Mark  
Book - 2018

This portrait of black life and cultural excellence in Pittsburgh in the 20th century includes a chapter on Wilson and his American Century Cycle.

 

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Conversations With August Wilson 
by Wilson, August
Book - 2006

In this collection of interviews, Wilson talks at length about his writing process, plays, background, and influences.

 

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The Ground on Which I Stand 
by Wilson, August
Book - 2001

In this 1996 keynote address, Wilson calls for Black artists to seize the power over their own cultural identity and to establish permanent institutions that celebrate and preserve the singular achievements of African American dramatic art and reaffirm its equal importance in contemporary American culture.

 

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