Ok, so I’ve been very busy and haven’t gotten out much (read, at all), so I haven’t encountered any interesting characters/conversations lately. But it is time for a blog post, so I’m beginning a spotlight series that I have come up with for times like these. I am a lover of plays–absolutely crazy about them. They are, by far, my favorite genre. Part of what I love about them is that when a playwright is really good, he/she has the ability to create amazing characters through dialogue. So every once in a while, I’m going to highlight one of my favorite playwrights and give you a little taste of why I think he/she is a genius.
First up–August Wilson (1945-2005)
Wilson holds a special place in my heart. First, I admire a man with a mission–he wanted to chronicle the lives of African Americans in each decade of the 20th century. Yes, you read that right. His goal was to write ten plays. And he did it, too. Unfortunately, he passed away before we could see what else he could do. His epic series of plays, which include the Tony and Pulitzer Prize winning Fences and the Pulitzer Prize winning Piano Lesson, makes him one of the greatest American playwrights of all time. Second, I had the distinction of meeting and talking to Mr. Wilson. He was a very nice, unassuming man who graciously took time out of his busy schedule to talk to a gushing young grad student with stars in her eyes.
And I am just in love with his use of langugage.
His characters sing with bravado and intention, world-weariness and wisdom, anguish and pain–all through language. Here’s just an example:
From Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1982)
Ma Rainey: It sure done got quiet in here. I never could stand the silence. I always got to have some music going around in my head somewhere. Keeps things balanced. Music will do that. Fills things up. The more music you got in the world, the fuller it is.
Levee: I can agree with that. I got to have my music, too.
Ma Rainey: White folks don’t understand about the blues. They hear it come out, but they don’t know how it got there. They don’t understand that’s life’s way of talking. You don’t sing to feel better. You sing ’cause that’s a way of understanding life.
Levee: That’s right.
Ma Rainey: You get that understanding and you done got a grip on life to where you can hold your head up and go on and see what else life got to offer. The blues help you to get out of the bed in the morning. You get up knowing you ain’t alone. There’s something else out there in the world. Something’s been added by that song. This be an empty world without the blues. I take that emptiness and try and fill it up with something.
Levee: You fill it up with something that folks can’t be without, Ma. That’s why they call you the Mother of the Blues. You fill up that emptiness in a way like ain’t nobody ever thought of doing before, now they can’t be without it.
Ma Rainey: I ain’t started the blues way of singing. The blues always been here.
Levee: Sometimes you find that way of singing in the church. They got blues in the church.
Ma Rainey: They say I started it, but I didn’t. I just helped it out a little bit, that’s all. But if they want to call me the Mother of the Blues, that’s all right with me. It don’t hurt none.
RIP Mr. Wilson. Thank you for your vision and your voice.