Critics have long suggested that August Wilson, who called blues "the best literature we have as black Americans," appropriated blues music for his plays. After August insists instead that Wilson’s work is direct blues expression. Patrick Maley argues that Wilson was not a dramatist importing blues music into his plays; he was a bluesman, expressing a blues ethos through drama.

Reading Wilson’s American Century Cycle alongside the cultural history of blues music, as well as Wilson’s less discussed work—his interviews, the polemic speech "The Ground on Which I Stand," and his memoir play How I Learned What I Learned—Maley shows how Wilson’s plays deploy the blues technique of call-and-response, attempting to initiate a dialogue with his audience about how to be black in America.

After August further contends that understanding Wilson as a bluesman demands a reinvestigation of his forebears and successors in American drama, many of whom echo his deep investment in social identity crafting. Wilson’s dramaturgical pursuit of culturally sustainable black identity sheds light on Tennessee Williams’s exploration of oppressive limits on masculine sexuality and Eugene O’Neill’s treatment of psychologically corrosive whiteness. Today, the contemporary African American playwrights Katori Hall and Tarell Alvin McCraney repeat and revise Wilson’s methods, exploring the fraught and fertile terrain of racial, gender, and sexual identity. After August makes a significant contribution to the scholarship on Wilson and his undeniable impact on American drama.

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