August Wilson

Completing the Twentieth-Century Cycle
Alan Nadel

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“In this companion to May All Your Fences Have Gates, we have a timely addition to the growing scholarship on August Wilson’s works. The focus on the second half of the cycle presents certain problems, not least of which stem from the fact that Wilson’s plays were written ‘out of order,’ simultaneously pointing forward and looking back. In less capable hands, this aspect might be ignored and the plays studied decade by decade, in a linear fashion. This volume does not fall into that trap. Instead, Nadel and his colleagues address the location of each play within the larger context of the cycle, for the second half of the cycle and the entire collection alike. As a result, we see that almost any theme or motif within a single text finds echoes and reverberations in other plays, thus affording us a view of Wilson’s overall scheme and challenging future scholarship of any single play to embrace this holistic view of the cycle. No longer is it enough to say that Wilson wrote a play or plays: whenever we consider any of his plays we have to acknowledge the cycle. This book ensures that perspective, one that is unique in the history of dramatic literature.”—Kim Pereira, author, August Wilson and the African-American Odyssey

"In this carefully crafted volume, Alan Nadel pairs a variety of essays on the plays of August Wilson's century cycle. Among the many strengths of this collection is that the selections are well connected thematically without being repetitive and that the diverse interpretations are presented in a language and style that are easily accessible, even for general readers. At the same time, the multiplicity of meanings that can be derived from careful readings of the social, cultural and historical contexts of the cycle will satisfy the most critical scholars."—Sandra Adell, author, Double Consciousness/Double Bind: Theoretical Issues in Twentieth-Century Black Literature

Just prior to his death in 2005, August Wilson, arguably the most important American playwright of the last quarter-century, completed an ambitious cycle of ten plays, each set in a different decade of the twentieth century. Known as the Twentieth-Century Cycle or the Pittsburgh Cycle, the plays, which portrayed the struggles of African-Americans, won two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama, a Tony Award for Best Play, and seven New York Drama Critics Circle Awards. August Wilson: Completing the Twentieth-Century Cycle is the first volume devoted to the last five plays of the cycle individually—Jitney, Seven Guitars, King Hedley II, Gem of the Ocean, and Radio Golf—and in the context of Wilson's entire body of work.

Editor Alan Nadel's May All Your Fences Have Gates: Essays on the Drama of August Wilson, a work Henry Louis Gates called "definitive," focused on the first five plays of Wilson's cycle. This new collection examines from myriad perspectives the way Wilson's final works give shape and focus to his complete dramatic opus. It contains an outstanding and diverse array of discussions from leading Wilson scholars and literary critics. Together, the essays in Nadel's two volumes give Wilson's work the breadth of analysis and understanding that this major figure of American drama merits.


Herman Beavers
Yvonne Chambers
Soyica Diggs Colbert
Harry J. Elam, Jr.
Nathan Grant
David LaCroix
Barbara Lewis
Alan Nadel
Donald E. Pease
Sandra Shannon
Vivian Gist Spencer
Anthony Stewart
Steven C. Tracy
Dana Williams
Kimmika L. H. Williams-Witherspoon

Table of contents: 



Alan Nadel

Beginning Again, Again:

Business in the Street in Jitney and

Gem of the Ocean


Dana A. Williams

Contesting Black Male Responsibilities

in August Wilson’s Jitney


Kimmika L. H. Williams-Witherspoon

Challenging the Stereotypes of Black Manhood:

The Hidden Transcript in Jitney


Steven C. Tracy

The Holyistic Blues of Seven Guitars


Donald E. Pease

August Wilson’s Lazarus Complex


Soyica Diggs Colbert

If We Must Die:

Violence as History Lesson in

Seven Guitars and King Hedley II


Herman Beavers

You Can’t Make Life Happen without a Woman:

Paternity and the Pitfalls of Structural Design

in King Hedley II and Seven Guitars


Sandra G. Shannon

Turn Your Lamp Down Low!

Aunt Ester Dies in King Hedley II. Now What?


Vivian Gist Spencer and

Yvonne Chambers

Ritual Death and Wilson’s Female Christ


Barbara Lewis

Miss Tyler’s Two Bodies:

Aunt Ester and the Legacy of Time


Nathan Grant

August Wilson and the Demands of Capital


David LaCroix

Finite and Final Interruptions:

Using Time in Radio Golf


Anthony Stewart

An Exercise in Peripheral Vision:

Loyalties, Ironies, and Sports in Radio Golf


Harry J. Elam, Jr.

Radio Golf in the Age of Obama


Steven C. Tracy


Discography for Seven Guitars


Works Cited 211

Notes on Contributors 223

Index 227