Early thoughts on The Cycle study group that starts next week, 9/24/2018

As I begin reading the first play, Jitney, it all seems so familiar, as if I have actually seen the play. but I haven’t seen Jitney on the stage. What I am seeing are images my mind created when I read it the first time (actually I read it twice) in preparation for last semester’s study group. Amazing thought, for me, at least.

Full Disclosures

I have to start with a full disclosure. I have no background, professionally or academically, in drama, playwriting, or even the arts. I studied engineering, economics, international relations, and library and information science, in that order. But I always loved plays, and have probably seen more August Wilson (and more Eugene O’Neill) plays performed on stage than the average bear. I do write poetry as Wilson did for years before he became a playwright, and I have had a few pieces published by small-time presses, as well as self-publishing a small collection of my own stuff (I gave away more copies than I sold, so I still claim the title “amateur,” doing it purely for the love of it).

That said, while last semester’s reading was a discovery for me and for many of the group members, this semester’s reading will be more about themes and analysis, plot and character development, and taking a deeper plunge into the soul of August Wilson through his words. Not that a lot of that did not happen last time; it did, but this time it will be more purposeful, more intentional.


The Community is the Curriculum. This concept comes from a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), Rhizo15. Each person brings to the class and the course his or her reading of the play and ideas about it. But he/she also brings a wealth of information to the class about former professions and life experiences. Collectively and in the aggregate, that “syllabus” of information “informs” the discussion and thus becomes the unwritten curriculum for the course. Those are my words; get more background (and for future reference) on it at this link: https://davecormier.com/edblog/2008/06/03/rhizomatic-education-community-as-curriculum/

We will continue with the close-read method borrowed from the Coursera MOOC, ModPo (Modern and Contemporary American Poetry), followed by discussion. That is, each group member will select in advance a passage for discussion, develop some ideas about that passage, and present findings to the class. In the first week, we will combine that presentation with a brief intro/bio that will include the members learning ‘subjectives,’ another Rhizo15 term, i.e., what you hope to get out of the course and what you bring to the course out of your own background. It may start off a little clunky, but will get better as we know each other better. Here is more detail on close reading.

Chatham House Rules. Which is to say, what we discuss in class stays in class, or, to put a fine point on it, “When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.”

The N-word comes up as well as other, how shall we say, indelicate phrases. If it comes up in a passage you choose, you should feel free to speak the text as it appears, but use “air quotes” if that makes you feel more comfortable about using “off-color” language.

There may be some glitches with versioning, i.e., different editions of the play may have different page numbers. As much as possible, let’s stick to the Act and Scene convention when describing our selected passages. Just makes it easier.

OK. That may be more than enough for one sitting. I look forward to meeting you all next Monday!

Jitney opens September 24th!

Syllabus for August Wilson Study Group

Week 1 – Introduction to the American Century Cycle and the first play, Jitney

https://www.memphisflyer.com/memphis/jitney-is-august-wilsons-underappreciated-masterpiece/Content?oid=12932362. Accessed August 24, 2018

TheaterTalk (Tony-award winning cast): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zfe8tRYKzdQ. Accessed August 24, 2018

NYTimes review of Jitney – Ben Brantley
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/19/theater/jitney-review-august-wilson.html?rref=collection%2Fbyline%2Fben-brantley&action=click&contentCollection=undefined&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=239&pgtype=collection. Accessed August 24, 2018

Short clip from Jitney: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=5&v=YUQ_6gXJnG0. Accessed August 24, 2018

History of the 70’s
https://www.thoughtco.com/african-american-history-timeline-1970-1979-45445. Accessed August 24, 2018

Background pieces on August Wilson
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/august-wilson-the-ground-on-which-i-stand-scenes-and-synposes-of-august-wilsons-10-play-cycle/3701/ . Accessed August 24, 2018

http://old.seattletimes.com/html/obituaries/2002536239_august03.html. Accessed August 24, 2018

Bill Moyers interview on You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgjnNaMweBw. Accessed August 24, 2018

A You Tube playlist of excerpts from all the plays: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0Lvs-e_eIXast5sdFxGHzmb3wRMWVTMP Accessed August 24, 2018

The Light in August Wilson – Suzi-Lori Parks interview https://www.americantheatre.org/2005/11/01/the-light-in-august-wilson-a-career-a-century-a-lifetime/. Accessed August 24, 2018

Minnesota Public Radio interview: https://www.mprnews.org/listen?name=/minnesota/news/features/2016/12/23/augustwilson_archives_ek_20161223_64.mp3. Accessed August 24, 2018

Here is the link to the whole website from Minnesota Public Radio: 
https://www.mprnews.org/story/2016/12/23/archives-august-wilson-fences-film-lou-bellamy. Accessed August 24, 2018

Recommended Books:

Elkins, Marilyn (ed). August Wilson: A Casebook. From the series “Casebooks of Modern Dramatists.” Garland Publishers, Inc. 1994.

Nadal, Alan (ed). May All Your Fences Have Gates: Essays on the Drama of August Wilson. University of Iowa Press. 1994.

*Shannon, Sandra. The Dramatic Vision of August Wilson. Howard University Press. 1995

Bryer, Jackson and Hartig, Mary C. (eds). Conversations with August Wilson. University Press of Mississippi. 2006.

Nadal, Alan (ed). August Wilson: Completing the Twentieth- Century Cycle. University of Iowa Press. 2010.

*Temple, Riley. Aunt Ester’s Children Redeemed. Cascade Books. 2017.

* My Favorites