Who is August Wilson? 

You may have heard of Fences (2016), the Pulitzer-Prize winning play-turned Academy Award winning film featuring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. Or perhaps Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020), also featuring Viola Davis and the last film Chadwick Boseman starred in before his death. 

But do you know the man behind the genius of these stories? Dubbed the “theater’s poet of Black America,” August Wilson was a critically acclaimed American playwright who, like Romare Bearden and others before him, sought to capture the dignity and beauty of ordinary Black life through his art. Considered one of the most important contributors to modern American Theatre, Wilson wrote over fifteen plays, won two Tony Awards and two Pulitzer Prizes, and numerous other awards. There is even a Broadway Theater named after him! Wilson’s crowning achievement is a series of ten plays collectively entitled The Century Cycle (or The Pittsburgh Cycle), which chronicles the Black experience in America throughout the 20th century. His work explores themes such as love, loss, ancestry, legacy, and injustice through the every-day stories of working class African-Americans in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, where Wilson grew up.

Credit: Boston Globe via Getty Images

While August Wilson is no longer with us, his legacy lives on and there’s no doubt that his artistry will continue to influence literature, theater, and film for generations to come. The National August Wilson Monologue Competition, founded in 2007 by Kenny Leon & Todd Kriedler, who both worked closely with Wilson, is one way the next generation is honoring this legacy and raising awareness about his work. In that same spirit of giving honor and raising awareness, we are incredibly excited to invite YOU to The August Wilson Monologue Festival.  Officially taking place from January 27th to February 10th, the festival will host a variety of artistic events and challenges to encourage and support community engagement with The Century Cycle.
The festival will consist of the following components:

• August Wilson monologues performed by DP scholars.

• Three virtual Thursday evening/after school events:
01/27: Community Screening of Giving Voice, which spotlights the National August Wilson Monologue Competition.
02/03: Student Monologue Showcase No. 1 & Community Screening of The Piano Lesson.
02/10: Student Monologue Showcase No. 2 and panel discussion: From Stories to Legacies: What Happens When We Are Gone?

An Artist Immersion Challenge open to the entire DP community: watch or read a play, film, documentary or interview between 1/27 and 2/10 and share your reflections for possible inclusion in one of the Thursday events.

• The Seven Guitars Storytelling & Songwriting Challenge open to any DP scholar: write a dramatic or comedic monologue, compose a melody, play/sing the blues, or write lyrics to either of these tracks.

• Classroom resources to explore and discuss during the festival with scholars.

After a prolonged period of pandemic-driven uncertainty and disconnectedness, this festival strives to meaningfully connect elements of DP’s Theater, ELA, Speech & Debate, Music and Civics programming with a powerful body of artistic work and opportunity that will surely be expanding as more of the Century Cycle is brought to the screen. This is a chance for our community to come together, tap into the creative energy that permeates our network, and connect that energy to tangible artistic opportunities for scholars.

While a small cohort of scholars will be performing in the monologue showcases, the challenges listed above provide opportunities for any DP scholar to engage with August Wilson’s work, add their own dramatic or musical voice to the festival, and possibly have their work spotlighted in one of the Thursday events. The group that will be performing the monologues has been working closely with DP’s Speech & Debate Coaches Sarah Rosenberg, Luis Cardenas, and Norberto Troncoso to dive deeper into the craft of bringing August Wilson’s characters to life. Many of these scholars have also placed in regional Speech & Debate competitions at Yale, Princeton, and the American Debate League, and are currently working to qualify for National competitions in May and June.

Each of Mr. Wilson’s plays implores its audience to ask questions and to think critically about how the themes apply to the world we live in. Wilson’s multidimensional characters are the conduit for which we see the joys, struggles, heartbreak and irony of real life play out on a stage. In bringing Wilson’s characters to life, our young scholars are engaging with history and culture, which also enables them to find new ways and perspectives to reckon with and understand their own present. 

And that’s one of the greatest gifts that this festival has to offer: a vehicle for our scholars to be grounded in and inspired by Black history as they seek to create something current and unique to their own lives. There is so much learning to be done outside of the classroom, so many places in which we can find inspiration, and endless potential to what is possible. The DP August Wilson Festival is an opportunity for our network to collectively learn from August Wilson’s artistry and celebrate our amazingly talented scholars for their achievements.

Human beings connect in powerful and promising ways when they channel their talent, creativity and labor to document their experiences in all their fullness. We hope you’ll join us for what will certainly be an inspiring and energizing three weeks!