‘One of the great American stories’: the incredible life of playwright August Wilson

The host was Bill Moyers, former White House press secretary under Lyndon Johnson. The guest was August Wilson, one of the great playwrights of the 20th century and unofficial laureate of African American history and culture. It did not go well.

“Don’t you grow weary of thinking Black, writing Black, being asked questions about Blacks?” Moyers asked on his PBS show A World of Ideas in 1988.

Wilson replied with a question of his own: “How could one grow weary of that? Whites don’t get tired of thinking white or being who they are. I’m just who I am. You never transcend who you are. Black is not limiting. There’s no idea in the world that is not contained by Black life. I could write forever about the Black experience in America.”

It is a pity that Wilson, who died in 2005, is not around to offer his views on current debates around representation. He criticised the idea of colorblind casting, arguing that an all-Black Death of a Salesman was irrelevant because the play was “conceived for white actors as an investigation of the specifics of white culture”. —Guardian

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