New fellowship created in the spirit of August Wilson

Courtesy of PBS August Wilson wrote about African American life, and he received two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama.
Courtesy of PBS
August Wilson wrote about African American life, and he received two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama.

Sairah Aslam | Staff Writer


Duquesne University is honoring one of the Hill District’s enduring legacies, August Wilson. The university announced it will be creating a new August Wilson House Fellowship, bolstering the university’s reputation as a prominent contributor to the arts and culture in the Pittsburgh community and across the country.

For about seven years, the August Wilson House in the Hill District and the Duquesne University Honors College have enjoyed a productive partnership.

As a result, many Duquesne students have been introduced to the August Wilson House and its significance in the Pittsburgh community, often through honors seminars and community engagement courses. Soon, the relationship will expand through the August Wilson House Fellowship, an artists-in-residence program that will select its first participants in Fall 2018.

The program was designed to facilitate a mutually beneficial relationship between the fellows, the college community and the Pittsburgh general public. The fellows will enjoy the resources provided by Duquesne and the city, and create art through which both communities may benefit and invest in the fellows.

Beyond the broad standards of excellence and ambition, artists will be free to pursue their art. The fellowship was created to help alleviate some of the practical concerns associated with artistry by providing a platform through which underrepresented artists can showcase their work to the Duquesne community, the Hill District, the city of Pittsburgh and beyond.

According to Paul Ellis, the executive director of the August Wilson House and nephew of the famed playwright, this opportunity is something Wilson would have supported.

“August Wilson spent much of his time creating opportunities for others; [this fellowship program] is consistent with what he would’ve wanted,” he said.

Wilson was faced with such bigotry in his youth that he dropped out of high school and instead pursued education at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. To support himself, he took several menial jobs, writing whenever possible, and with a strong focus on the black experience in America. With a friend, he co founded a theater in the Hill District and began a vibrant and active directing career.

He was honored before his death in 2005 with two Pulitzer Prizes and several honorary degrees. Posthumously, his play Fences earned an Oscar nomination.

Ellis also expressed confidence in the mutually beneficial relationship between the future fellows’ work and the city.

“Pittsburgh has a very strong nonprofit community, and this is a very strong base of arts and culture,” he said.

The program will help artists receive a chance to do there work, he explained.

“There are more artists than opportunities in Pittsburgh,” Ellis said. “The August Wilson Fellowship is a way to showcase these artists and support them with scholarly research and programs.”

For the first several years, the founders of the fellowship only plan to sustain the program. Afterwards, they will look towards expanding it, in regard to both the number of fellows and the type of work they will do. The founders of the program plan to keep art the main focus of the fellowship, seeing as it was the defining legacy of Wilson’s life.