August Wilson: A tribute before dying

We search for various media to give real voice to who we are, who we really are deep within our souls as part of a dominated and exploited class, as a people still suffering the depth and breath of national and racial oppression, and as human beings living in a hollow and dissatisfying society.

When we hear our real voice through radio, television, movies or theatre, the voice which releases us from self-blame, sheds a revealing light on our history of resistance, and challenges us to continue to fight for a substantive and more advanced democracy, we can not help but be exalted and proud. Those who can produce such an effect are heralded as genius talents.

It has been reported that one such genius talent is dying with only a few months to live. Through the haze of tears and true heartbreak, we should raise our weary heads and pay tribute before his death.

I was stung with a piercing sorrow to read recently that August Wilson is dying at the age of 60 of liver cancer. August Wilson is an African American playwright who is highly acclaimed. Some people may not deserve their acclaim, but in my opinion August Wilson deserves all the attention he has ever gotten and more.

August Wilson has the talent of speaking to us through our own voice. He opens our mouths and enables a historically rooted consciousness to take flight and soar, forcing us to remember: Remember our past and the reason for it, take command of our present based on a collective knowledge of what was before, chart our own future based on the fight for a humane world.

Yes, August Wilson, like Lorraine Hansberry, allows us to passionately debate major relationships and issues — be it between Black and white, men and women, or young and old. With August Wilson you can laugh deeply, smile widely, or tense up in a heart-wrenching cry that threatens to shake your very foundation. The net effect of the best of August Wilson is our affirmation as an ordinary people worthy of being heard and dignified.

“The Piano Lesson,” one of August Wilson’s plays, was made into a television movie. Then, as even now, when “colored people” are going to be on television, you make plans to watch. Charles Dutton, whom we came to love in his television series “Roc,” and Alfre Woodard were the stars of the 1995 production, and everybody just could not wait to see it. I knew nothing of August Wilson at the time but I remember thinking that the performance was superb, and I became curious enough about the writer to pay attention.

Since then I have seen a few more of Wilson’s works, including his latest, “Gem of the Ocean.” I even paid to sit in an audience just to hear him be interviewed, and it was well worth the cost. It was truly a wonderful evening. There were just two people on stage: Wilson as the interviewee and the interviewer. Wilson revealed he is a great storyteller and does not really need others to bring his stories, be it from his own experiences or those of his characters, to life. He could do it quite engagingly well himself alone.

On behalf of those of us who have sought and found solace in your work, I thank you and wish you peace.