Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

August Wilson and Beyond

ENGL 380.401
crosslisted as: AFRC 325
instructor(s):
MW 1:45-3:15pm
fulfills requirements:
Sector 2: Difference and Diaspora of the Standard Major
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major
Elective Seminar of the Standard Major
Cultural Diversity in the US of the College's General Education Curriculum

 “The people need to know the story. See how they fit into it. See what part they play.”
- August Wilson, King Hedley II

In this intergenerational seminar, Penn students together with community members of all ages read groundbreaking playwright August Wilson's American Century Cycle: ten plays that form an iconic picture of African American traditions, traumas, and triumphs through the decades, nearly all told through the lens of Pittsburgh's Hill District neighborhood. Two of Wilson’s plays are receiving fresh attention with recent acclaimed film versions: Fences with Denzel Washington and Viola Davis; Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom with Davis and Chadwick Boseman. All class participants get to know each other while exploring the history and culture that shaped these ten powerful plays. 

As an Academically Based Community Service (ABCS) course, the class plans and hosts events with community partner the West Philadelphia Cultural Alliance / Paul Robeson House & Museum, and also collaborates with the artists of Theatre in the X. Participants come to understand Philadelphia’s rich history through stories community members share in oral history interviews. These stories form the basis for an original performance the class creates, presented at an end-of-semester gathering. Wilson's plays provide the bridge between the generations. The group embodies collaborative service through the art it offers to the community.