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August Wilson at his birthplace. (Photo by Bill Wade)

Denzel Washington to Speak at August Wilson House Opening

The actor, a champion of the late author’s work, will join Wilson’s widow, Constanza Romero, for remarks at the opening of his childhood home in the Hill District.

PITTSBURGH: The August Wilson House host committee has announced a schedule of events for the home’s grand opening celebration on Saturday, Aug. 13. Actor Denzel Washington, a two-time Academy Award winner and director and star of the film of Wilson’s Fences, will join Constanza Romero Wilson, the playwright’s widow, in delivering welcome remarks at the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright’s childhood home at 1727 Bedford Ave., in Pittsburgh’s Hill District.

Washington, a recent recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, played an instrumental role in the restoration of Wilson’s childhood home. The opening culminates a years-long awareness, fundraising, and restoration effort.

“August Wilson is one of the greatest playwrights in American history, in world history,” Washington said in a statement. “It is a privilege and honor, responsibility and duty, and a joy to be a small part in keeping him alive. I will do everything I can to keep this structure alive and sound and a place for us all to grow.”

Born in 1945, Wilson spent the first 13 years of his life living with his mother and five siblings in two rooms (and later four) in the Bedford Avenue dwelling in the historic Hill District in Pittsburgh. At the time, a Jewish family ran a small mom-and-pop store in front, and two Italian brothers repaired shoes and watches next door. Though cramped, the house and its yard pulsed with life, and the multiethnic Hill District was one of the nation’s most vibrant Black neighborhoods, with a great Negro League baseball team, jazz music, and coverage of it all by the nationally-disbributed Pittsburgh Courier. These experiences shaped Wilson’s life and his plays. 

“I happen to think that the content of my mother’s life—her myths, her superstitions, her prayers, the contents of her pantry, the smell of her kitchen, the song that escaped from her sometimes parched lips, her thoughtful repose and pregnant laughter—are all worthy of art,” Wilson once said. 

After his death in 2005 at the age of 60, Wilson’s nephew Paul Ellis formed the Daisy Wilson Artist Community, named after Wilson’s mother, and took the first steps to stop the decay of the late playwright’s childhood home. The vision for the restored space is to preserve Wilson’s legacy and to be useful to the community through programming, gathering spaces and small artist studios, and fellowships for local and national artists and scholars, among other events. 

To commemorate the opening, August Wilson House’s Year of Celebration kicked off in April with the annual August Wilson Birthday Celebration Block Party, presented by Dollar Bank, and will continue through April 2023 with several special programs and events. Beyond the opening celebration, Pittsburgh Playwright’s Theatre’s production of Wilson’s Jitney, directed by Mark Clayton Southers, will take place in the yard at August Wilson House Aug. 12-Sept. 18. 

The public also can help make August Wilson House a home by purchasing a personal brick that will be incorporated into the house’s restoration through the Legacy Brick Campaign. August Wilson House partnered with actor Russell Hornsby, who played Lyons in Washington’s 2010 Broadway and 2016 film adaptations of Wilson’s Fences, to help spread the word via a video about the brick-naming campaign. Bricks are available for $100, $250, $500, and $1,000 and will be incorporated into the house’s restoration. .

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