KU Professor Creates First and Only August Wilson Journal

KUTZTOWN, Pa. – Famed late Pittsburgh playwright, August Wilson, comes to life again in a collection of interviews, stage reviews and essays now available online in the inaugural edition of the August Wilson Journal, thanks to the work of Kutztown University professor of English, Michael Downing. 

Published by the University Library System (ULS), University of Pittsburgh and sponsored by Kutztown University, the journal is the first peer-reviewed, open-access publication that promotes the study, teaching and performance of Wilson’s work. The newly founded journal will publish scholarly material related to the life and work of Wilson, including biographical research, historical research, literary analysis, performance studies, interviews, reviews and more. 

Five years and more than 1,000 hours of work went into creating and publishing the August Wilson Journal. With his work coming to fruition, Downing is ready to pass on the project.

"I've devoted the past 27 years of my life to promoting the study, performance and teaching of August Wilson and I've poured endless hours into creating this journal. I'm ready to hand this off to upcoming Wilson scholars so that I can focus on my book,” Downing said.

Downing is a well-rounded scholar with bachelor’s degrees in both arts and science from Clarion University and a summa cum laude doctoral graduate of philosophy from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 1997. His dissertation, “Converting Stereotype to Archetype in Five Plays of August Wilson,” showcased the direction of his future publications and presentations examining Wilson’s work. 

Downing began studying the life and work of Wilson in 1992, while living in Pittsburgh and attending Wilson’s plays at the Pittsburgh Public Theatre. He liked how Wilson “converts the mundane into the sacred,” as when Wilson refers to his mother’s pantry as “worthy of art” in the Note from the Playwright at the beginning of “Seven Guitars.”

“He converts everything, he overturns every stone to find all of it,” said Downing.

He first launched an August Wilson website, then an August Wilson blog in 2012, all designed to “educate people about the plays, the sensibilities and politics that informed Mr. Wilson’s life.” Soon he was cultivating scholarly essays about Wilson and was looking for a home for them. He and managing editor, David Anderson, eventually approached the ULS, who enthusiastically agreed to publish the August Wilson Journal.

“Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller both have journals dedicated to them; now August Wilson has his,” Downing said.

Through the immensity and ambition of his vision, Wilson crafted a series of linked narratives that not only captured many of the untold stories of the black experience but that also increased the presence of African American performers and theatrical talent in theatres throughout the United States as well as beyond its borders.