Born Frederick August Kittel, Jr in Pittsburgh in 1945, as the fourth of seven children, August Wilson grew up in the impoverished Bedford Avenue area of the city. The family moved from there when his mother re-married and Wilson attended school; he dropped out at 16 and focused on working in menial jobs while fostering his burgeoning love of the written word with trips to the Carnegie Library. Reading the works of Langston Hughes and Ralph Ellison embedded a desire within the teenage Wilson to become a writer, though his mother wanted him to pursue a career in law.
After his father’s death in 1965, Frederick Kittel Jr became August Wilson, a decision made to honour his mother. The late sixties saw Wilson become heavily influenced by Malcolm X and the Blues and he converted to Islam. A year earlier Wilson set up the Black Horizon Theater with Rob Penny where his first plays, Recycling and Jitney, were performed.
In 1978 the budding playwright moved to St Paul, Minnesota, and the Playwrights’ Center in Minnesota awarded him a fellowship in 1980. In Minnesota Wilson built a strong relationship with the Penumbra Theatre Company which produced many of his plays in the eighties and in 1987 the city named May 25th August Wilson day after his Pulitzer Prize award in the same year.
Wilson left St Paul for Seattle in 1990, and while there the Seattle Repertory Theatre performed a number of his plays. In 1995 Wilson received one his many honorary degrees from the University of Pittsburgh where he became a Doctor of Humanities and was a member of the Board of Trustees.
In 2005 was diagnosed with liver cancer. In October, he passed away.