Rather than re­move Foster, add a trib­ute to Au­gust Wil­son

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Local News -

With all the at­ten­tion be­ing paid to the Stephen Foster memo­rial, I’ve waited for some­one to sug­gest a statue of play­wright Au­gust Wil­son (1945-2005) for Oakland, near the Carnegie Li­brary.

He was a Pitts­burgher born and bred who wrote a cy­cle of 10 plays (nine set in Pitts­burgh) about the black ex­pe­ri­ence in 20th­cen­tury Amer­ica, one play for each decade. He won two Pulitzer Prizes and had a the­ater in New York’s the­ater district named af­ter him (2003) as well as the Au­gust Wil­son Cen­ter in Down­town Pitts­burgh (2009). His house in the Hill District was listed on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places (2013).

Wil­son quit high school af­ter be­ing falsely ac­cused of pla­gia­rism by a teacher, then con­tin­ued to ed­u­cate him­self at the Carnegie Li­brary, which in 1989 gave him an honorary high school grad­u­a­tion cer­tifi­cate, as ad­vo­cated by ac­tivist li­brary di­rec­tor Robert Croneberger.

Wil­son was proud of this and con­sid­ered him­self a grad­u­ate of the li­brary, which en­abled black em­pow­er­ment through self-ed­u­ca­tion.

In front of Carnegie Li­brary and In­sti­tute in Oakland, with its names of great writ­ers — Dick­ens, Voltaire, Shake­speare and Emer­son — we could eas­ily (per­haps) have a re­al­is­tic statue of play­wright Wil­son, with the ti­tles of his suc­cess­ful plays carved in the base of the mon­u­ment, just as Robert Burns’ statue at Phipps Con­ser­va­tory bears the names of his fa­mous po­ems.

Wil­son is buried in Green­field Ceme­tery in O’Hara, near his mother, sis­ter and grand­mother. On his tomb­stone is his provoca­tive epi­taph: “Wher­ever you are you are. I’m here.” Could we re­peat that on his mon­u­ment?

In­stead of re­mov­ing from Oakland the statue to Pitts­burgh’s great­est song­writer, Stephen Foster, we could sim­ply add nearby a statue to Pitts­burgh’s great­est play­wright, Au­gust Wil­son. How hard is this?

The civic-minded li­brar­ian Bob Croneberger would have voted for it. ROBERT GANGEWERE

Shaler

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