Celebration on the Hill: Start of Something Special at August Wilson Home

Working with Hill District partners, Duquesne faculty and students are hosting a community event at the boyhood home of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson.

Music, oral history, artwork by all ages and monologues from August Wilson plays will provide free entertainment starting at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, April 26, under a festival tent. The Daisy Wilson Artist Community event, with food samples from what will become the Legacy Café in Wilson’s  former house at 1727 Bedford Ave., offers a sneak-peek of the home, the growing University-Hill District organization partnerships and future events fostered by Wilson’s local presence.

This event initially was geared toward the Pittsburgh meeting of the Eastern Communication Association and its interest in intercultural communication, explained Dr. Kathleen Glenister Roberts, Honors College director and a leader in the communications group. As plans were developed, the event swelled to reflect the many partnerships between campus and Hill District organizations and the University’s Strategic Plan, which aims to strengthen service to neighbors as modeled by Duquesne’s Spiritan founders.

“The University’s Strategic Plan gives attention to relationships with our neighbors in the Hill, and students and community members are engaging in a variety of ways,” Roberts said. “Why not highlight these many connections?”

Last year, the Honors College forged a long-term partnership with the Daisy Wilson Artist Community, a fledgling nonprofit named for Wilson’s mother. Students in the service-learning course of Dr. Evan Stoddard, associate dean of the McAnulty College, helped the nonprofit to develop a long-term strategic plan. Deepening the partnership’s ties, Stoddard’s students led community tours during the spring Center for the Catholic Intellectual Tradition’s lecture series.

Because Duquesne students studied Wilson in literature and drama classes, a theater production was a natural fit. The staging will feature monologues from Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Jitney and King Hedley II, starting at 7:15 p.m., with music school performers playing jazz between scenes.

“One of the biggest things August Wilson cared about was history,” observed Eva Diodati, a former Red Masquer and alumna who is working with producer John Lane, assistant professor of theater arts in the McAnulty College. “The main theme of almost every one of his plays is history.”

Stories related to the Hill District, taken from the 1,000 Stories project, will be incorporated onstage as forbears of Wilson’s work. Psychology students of Assistant Professor Dr. Susan Goldberg have been collecting and presenting oral histories of Hill District residents, whose recollections recount the area’s history and resilience, and the community’s future.

In addition, artifacts relating to the Hill and Wilson will be displayed with the artwork of Hill District artists and school children at the event, which takes place the day before Wilson’s birthday.

While the Wilson house exterior waits its turn for improvements, other transformations are occurring, thanks to campus-community partnership efforts—bringing the promise of more celebrations to come.