The American Century Cycle

The best place to start for those new to August Wilson is The American Century Cycle. Also known as The Pittsburgh Cycle, Wilson’s series of ten plays depicts African-American life during each decade of the 20th century. All of the plays within the Cycle are available at major bookstores and your local library:

After the plays, check out these sources where Wilson talks about his work:

Critical Studies of Wilson’s Work

Christopher Bigsby, The Cambridge Companion to August Wilson


The 4 B’s


In many interviews and prefaces, Wilson refers to the influence of the “4 B’s” on his work: the blues (especially as sung by Bessie Smith, “The Empress of the Blues”); the writing of Amiri Baraka and Jorge Luis Borges; and the paintings of Romare Bearden. Sometimes the list is expanded to six by adding the work of James Baldwin and Ed Bullins.

Selected Works

James Baldwin:

Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones):

Romare Bearden:

Jorge Luis Borges:

Ed Bullins:

Bessie Smith:

This list of resources was provided by Pancho Savery, professor of English & Humanities at Reed College. Prof. Savery has taught Wilson’s American Century Cycle to students for more than eighteen years and is one of Oregon’s foremost scholars of African-American literature.