August Wilson's play cycle: a healing black rage for contemporary African Americans
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With this dissertation, I intend to answer the following question: In producing an African-American genealogy through his play cycle, how does August Wilson recuperate the experiences and politics of black rage as a means of healing for contemporary African Americans? August Wilson is a leading American playwright whose works have been produced from Broadway to California to the heartland. He won the 1987 and 1990 Pulitzer Prize for Fences and The Piano Lesson, respectively. With his speech, ìThe Ground On Which I Stand,î delivered to the Theatre Communications Groupís Eleventh National Conference in Princeton, New Jersey in June of 1996, Wilson galvanized a national debate on race and culture. Since 1981, Wilson has been writing a ten-play cycle of history plays dealing with the African-American experience, with each play in the cycle chronicling a specific decade of the twentieth century: Joe Turnerís Come and Gone (1988), set in 1911; Ma Raineyís Black Bottom (1981), set in 1927; The Piano Lesson (1990), set in 1936; Seven Guitars (1996), set in 1948; Fences (1986), set in 1957; Two Trains Running (1992), set in 1969; Jitney (1979), set in 1977; and King Hedley II (not published), set in 1985. The focus of my analysis is the black rage exhibited by key characters throughout Wilsonís cycle. In Killing Rage: Ending Racism, black rage scholar bell hooks argues that black rage is born out of displaced grief and pain; when compared to anger, rage is distinctive in that it is embodied to a deeper degree. My goal with this dissertation is to provide some shelter to African Americans by urging them to acknowledge the daily bombardment of racism, how it connects to continuous grief and pain, and point out that by owning the pain, the African American in question can become empowered by it. I intend to read the ways in which Wilson recuperates a ìhealing black rageî for contemporary African Americans. In doing so, I will answer the following questions: what are the various forms of black rage in Wilsonís plays? What precipitates the rage? What are its effects, and consequences?