The Postal Service dedicated its August Wilson stamp during a Jan. 28 virtual ceremony where the beloved playwright was hailed for bringing African American drama to theater’s forefront.
Stephen McKinley Henderson, who appeared in Broadway productions of “Fences” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” two of Wilson’s best-known plays, praised him for shining a spotlight on the kind of African American working-class characters who were traditionally relegated to background roles.
“There were all these characters in American theater who were on the tangential part of other characters in plays — African American characters that were maids or butlers or chauffeurs … but you didn’t know where they went home to,” Henderson said. “They walked through those rooms in those plays, but they had a whole life. And August showed them at the center of their own life.”
Viola Davis, who stars in a new film adaptation of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” recalled reading the play for the first time.
“It was me. It was my life. It was my father, my mom…. It was their language. It was their cadences. It was their pain. It was their joy, their humor,” Davis said. “It just leapt out of the page.”
Constanza Romero, Wilson’s widow, said he was “visited by the characters he was writing about. And inside his mind, he would hear their voice and he would hear their stories, and then he would write them down. He didn’t know how it was all going to be connected from the beginning.”
Wilson received several honors for his works, including seven New York Drama Critics’ Circle Awards; a Tony Award, for “Fences”; and two Pulitzer Prizes, for “Fences” and “The Piano Lesson.”
Other speakers during the ceremony included Joshua D. Colin, the Postal Service’s delivery operations vice president, and Sakina Ansari, Wilson’s daughter.
The August Wilson stamp, the 44th entry in the Black Heritage series, is available at Post Offices and usps.com and features an oil portrait of Wilson based on a 2004 photograph.
Phylicia Rashad, a veteran of several of Wilson’s productions, described the stamp as a fitting honor for him.
“When you think about a stamp, you’re talking about mail,” Rashad said. “And when you think about mail, I think about letters. And when I think about letters, I think about literature and expression. That’s what a letter is, an expression.”
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