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After August

Blues, August Wilson, and American Drama
Patrick Maley

BUY Cloth · 250 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813942995 · $59.50 · Aug 2019
BUY Paper · 250 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813943008 · $29.50 · Aug 2019
BUY Ebook · 250 pp. · ISBN 9780813943022 · $59.50 · Aug 2019

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.


This book is startlingly innovative. Patrick Maley is the only American drama scholar I know of with such a deep understanding of blues history and the blues aesthetic.

Patricia R. Schroeder, Ursinus College, author of Robert Johnson, Mythmaking, and Contemporary American Culture

The influence of the blues on playwright August Wilson (1945–2005) has been frequently acknowledged, initially by Wilson himself. But Maley (Centenary Univ.) does more than gloss Wilson’s work with the blues; in his first chapter, he discusses a performative, community-centered, playful, and humanizing "blues aesthetic" that goes beyond mere music.


After August makes an important contribution to Wilson studies. It is arigorously researched, well‐written, and deft interdisciplinary investigation of one ofAmerica’s most important Black dramatists and his legacy.

August Wilson Journal

Which nonblack contemporary playwrights converse meaningfully with Wilson’s blues dramaturgy? After August’s original and revelatory approach that centers Wilson as a key interlocutorfor all of American drama opens up enticing new pathways for scholars of the American stage to explore.

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