The Past as Present in the Drama of August Wilson

Harry J. Elam, Jr.
An indispensable guide to the dramatic work of one of America's most important contemporary playwrights


Pulitzer prize-winning playwright August Wilson, author of Fences, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, and The Piano Lesson, among other dramatic works, was one of the most well respected American playwrights on the contemporary stage. As the founder of the Black Horizon Theater Company, his self-defined dramatic project was to review twentieth-century African American history by creating a play for each decade.

Theater scholar and critic Harry J. Elam, Jr. examines Wilson's published plays within the context of contemporary African American literature and in relation to concepts of memory and history, culture and resistance, race and representation. Elam finds that each of Wilson's plays recaptures narratives lost, ignored, or avoided to create a new experience of the past that questions the historical categories of race and the meanings of blackness.

Harry Justin Elam, Jr. , is Olive H. Palmer Professor in Humanities and Professor of Drama at Stanford University. He is author of Taking It to the Streets: The Social Protest Theater of Luis Valdez and Amiri Baraka and co-editor of Black Cultural Traffic: Crossroads in Global Performance and Popular Culture and African American Performance and Theater History: A Critical Reader.

Praise / Awards

  • "Elam's study is grounded in his obvious passion for, and extensive knowledge of, Wilson's plays, a passion and knowledge acquired not only through meticulous research and analysis, but years of teaching, directing, attending, and performing these works."
    Theatre History Studies

  • ". . .what Elam offers is not mere conjecture but about what Wilson might think, but thoughtful insight into the playwright's chief concepts and the questions they raise."
    American Theatre

  • "This is certain to be the major study of Wilson for some time to come."
    —W.B. Worthen, University of California, Berkeley

  • ". . . the author has found hidden depths that increase the understanding of the plays themselves, and add even respect to the work done by Mr. Wilson."
    Publisher Review

  • Winner: American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR) 2005 Errol Hill Award 

  • Winner: American Society of Theatre Research (ASTR) 2006 Distinguished Scholar Award

Look Inside

Copyright © 2004, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 312pp.
  • 16 B&W photographs in text.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2004
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11368-2

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  • $94.95 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2006
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03163-4

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  • $29.95 U.S.

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