The Pulitzer Prize winner, 60, succumbs to liver cancer in Seattle on Sunday

By Stephen M. Silverman
October 03, 2005 08:00 AM

Pulitzer Prize-winning Fences, Piano Lesson and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom playwright August Wilson, whose cycle of plays chronicling 20th-century African-American life brought a poetic new frankness to the way theater dealt with race, died of liver cancer on Sunday in Seattle, a hospital spokesman said. He was 60.

Wilson disclosed his illness in August when a spokeswoman said he might have only months to live. His diagnosis was made in June by his doctors in Seattle, where he lived, yet the disease proved too advanced for treatment, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Wilson’s hometown paper, which broke the story of his illness.

All but one of Wilson’s plays, his 1984 breakthrough Ma Rainey, was set in the Hill District of Pittsburgh where Wilson, a high school dropout, grew up, the son of a white German immigrant and an African-American mother.

Wilson won the Pulitzer and the best play Tony for Fences. His other works included Jitney, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone and Seven Guitars. “I’ve lived a blessed life. I’m ready,” Wilson told the Post-Gazette in August. Later this month, Wilson will be immortalized on Broadway when the Virginia Theater is renamed the August Wilson Theater.

His third wife, Constanza Romero, and two daughters, Sakina Ansari (from his first marriage, to Brenda Burton) and Azula Carmen Wilson (whose mother is Romero), survive the playwright, The New York Times reports. His second wife was Judy Oliver. The first two marriages ended in divorce.