Hello. Come on in. The daddy writes about current events, literature, music and, once in a while, drops something on you from back in the day to make you pause and ponder, stop and stare, and begin to wonder. Who knows? You may start to pace the floor, shake your head from side to side, then fall down on bended knees in a praying position and cry, "Lawd, have mercy! What is this world coming to?" Check yourself! But this blog is NOT about the daddy. It's about you: your boos, your fam, your hood, your country...our hopes and dreams of a better tomorrow. So let's make a pact: the daddy will put it on the track if you'll chase it down and hit him back. Together, we can definitely take it to another level. Shall we?"

Sunday, February 22, 2009

August Wilson Ain't Come and Gone

August Wilson’s series of 10 plays that explore African-American life in each decade of the 20th century has placed him in elite company alongside America’s greatest playwrights.

Listen up. During this black history month, the daddy has written about black political leaders (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Ida B. Wells), great writers (James Baldwin, Zora Neal Hurston), great athletes (Althea Gibson, Jackie Robinson, Jackie Kersee-Joyner, Larry Doby), courageous pilots (Tuskegee Airmen), musicians (Big Joe Turner, Lula Reed) even a great black historian(John Henrik Clarke). Today, the daddy is feeling another great in literature, playwright August Wilson. Now you will not hear it said like this, because some racist whites still don't want a brother onto the literary stage of history as one of the greats. But the daddy is gonna make it plain: August Wilson is on of the great American playwrights of the 20 century. He did what all great writers do: wrote about what he knew; wrote about the place from which he came; wrote about the problems, the frustrations, and the aspirations of the people he knew best. And he drew stark individual black characters, making them come alive through detailed portraits, fantastic stories in a language that sang the blues with a heavy backbeat and at a depth that bled conviction and truth all over his plays.

As a child, he sat in classrooms with white kids who called him "nigger." But he also observed closely the lives of his people: their struggles, frustrations, and dreams in the Hill districts of Pittsburgh, a Black ghetto. He drew with astuteness the characters of those people in his plays: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (1984), Jitney (1982), Fences (1987, Joe Turner's Come and Gone (1988), The Piano Lesson (1990), Two Trains Running (1992), and Seven Guitars (1995). He won a Pulitzer for Fences in 1987 and Piano Lesson in 1990. When he died, the daddy, who used to run into Wilson on his many trips to Minneapolis, wrote this eulogy:

August Wilson Ain't Come and Gone
by Mac Walton, aka, The Daddy

“As soon as White folks say a play is good, the theater is jammed with Blacks and Whites. We {Black folks} have to get to the point where our critical observations and reviews are just as much validation as anybody’s.”
-- August Wilson in a February, 2001, interview

Hey, August! When people say something that sounds good, something I trust, I say, “Uh huh” real even and soft-like. But when they say something I don’t like or trust, I say, “Uh huh” real quick and hard-like.

August, they say you died of cancer a week ago last Sunday, October 2,at 69, at that Swedish Hospital in Seattle. I say "Uh huh" kind of hard and quick-like because to me, August, you ain't gone.

You ain’t gone when I can still go to Penumbra and see stage lights shine on me, telling my story from my point of view: the view of hard-working, down-on-their-luck but still striving black folk: the dishwashers, the cabdrivers, the garbage men, the sidemen, the petty thieves, the small business owners.

You ain’t gone, August, when you shine that light and I see me, a hardworking and low-wage earner. Then again, I see something else: I see my hopes and dreams. And some dignity too. I see a blues singer struggling to maintain her dignity as she fights a White-controlled music industry; I see gypsy cabdrivers at the end of the day forced to share $15 between them; A guy hoping to get his fair share when the City tries to buy him out for urban renewal; A man hoping to cash in on a fancy heirloom so he can buy a farm in the South. Like us today, they’re all struggling to realize their dreams while trying to make a living and hold their heads up high.

You ain’t gone, August, when you shine that light on me and I see white folk telling me I’m good for nothing, except maybe to wash their dishes, mop their floors, get rid of their garbage, or serve them in some other way.

You ain’t gone when your life tells me that I, too, can succeed if I do like you: follow my own mind and do it my way, the way that I know. After your father ran out on you, after you took all them low-wage jobs, after you moved to the suburbs and the White kids gathered around your school desk and chanted, “Nigger, go home!" you continued to believe in you, the beauty in your people and your vision of showing other folk that beauty too. And you showed me and everybody else how to do it: believe in yourself, your people, and work like hell.

Yeah, they say that, like Joe Turner, old August done come and gone. I say “Uh huh” kind of quick and hard-like. Cause every time I hear Bessie Smith sing or B.B. play, read one of your plays or, lawd knows, see a play at Penumbra, I be nodding my head and saying “Uh huh” kind of easy and soft-like.

Hey, August! You ain't gone, man. Cause I’m feeling you. Still feeling you. Uh huh.


Solomon said...

I'm feeling him too Daddy!

Great Post!

Hope all is well.

rainywalker said...

It gives one a good feeling to write about someone they knew and the wonderful successes he continues to radiate.

MacDaddy said...

Solomon: Thanks. He kept our hopes and dreams and history alive.

Rainy: Yes. He hung out in St. Paul, sitting on a bar stool and writing. I would just go up to him. He was very approachable. He would see you coming and greet you with a warm smile and a soft voice. I never had any long talk where he imparted some great wisdom or anything. I would just say something positive, listen for a minute or two and leave. I know how it feels to be distracted from writing. But always seemed happy. Every time I saw him he was alone. In fact, I don't think anybody in the bar knew who he was. Now, I write on bar stools as I sip a cold one: Stella beer.

Torrance Stephens - All-Mi-T said...

man great look, i have seen at least 3 of his plays, when i was in colege and he was still alive

judy said...

Daddy, Your eulogy was beautiful - full of the same music that lies at the heart of August Wilson's plays. When I read Joe Turner's Come and Gone the first time in college, I remember wondering if it could ever be as amazing performed because even the stage directions were wonderful. In his scripts, not a word is wasted, nothing just sits on the page. I could not agree more with you that he is one of the great American playwrights of the 20th century.

MacDaddy said...

Torrance: Yes, great plays. My favorite is Two Trains Running. I think he was still hanging out around Minneapolis/St. Paul during that time, because I would see him once or twice during that time (although I didn't always go up to him and say hello). I remember asking him a question about one of the characters, but I don't remember what he said over the music. But he looked like he was at the top of his game during that time.

Judy: Thanks. I do remember him telling me why he wrote in bars: he said he loved hearing voices as he wrote.