Feb 20, 2020
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A Hometown Exhibition Will Showcase August Wilson’s Process

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Great playwrights are often eclipsed by their work and the actors who give voice to it, but a coming exhibition dedicated to August Wilson will focus on the man behind the words. The August Wilson African American Cultural Center in Pittsburgh announced on Tuesday that this fall it would open “August Wilson: A Writer’s Landscape,” a permanent show about the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright’s life, creative process and legacy.

“This is a way for us to highlight the importance of August Wilson’s work, but also to share with people who he was as a man,” Janis Burley Wilson, the center’s president and chief executive, said in an interview on Friday. “Working closely with the estate, we’re able to do that.”

Plans for a permanent exhibition about Wilson, who died in 2005, have been in the works for years. The show will be broken into three parts, each modeled on the acts of a play. The first is inspired by Eddie’s, a restaurant in the Hill District of Pittsburgh that Wilson frequented as a young man. A replica of the playwright’s home office that showcases his manuscripts and book and record collections forms the second. The final component includes sections dedicated to each of the 10 plays that constitute Wilson’s American Century Cycle.

The exhibition is the first major endeavor for the organization’s new leadership. Threatened with foreclosure on its home in 2014, the center almost folded. Thanks to major foundation support and public money from the Allegheny Regional Asset District, the closing was averted.

Ms. Burley Wilson said that since 2017, when she joined the center as its leader, its board of directors has grown from six to 11 members and 10 more foundations have been added to its list of supporters.

Constanza Romero Wilson, the playwright’s widow and literary executor, said the impetus for the exhibition came to her when she donated his writing desk to the cultural center.

“I posed the idea of having a little corner where I could recreate August’s desk with piles of books, printouts and his pencils,” Ms. Romero Wilson said. She wanted to show that “he really did sit down and write these things and that it was not an easy process, that these plays didn’t come out of nowhere.” The concept was subsequently expanded with the help of Ms. Burley Wilson.

Video, props and costumes from notable productions and information about real world events that occurred during the cycle’s time frame will show how Wilson drew on history and the environment around him. Current and scheduled productions of Wilson’s plays around the world will also be highlighted to emphasize his continued relevance.

“I think of this exhibition as something that is forever going to be growing,” Ms. Romero Wilson said. “As August’s legacy expands I hope that the different facets of his influence in the future will be reflected in it.”

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