87 pages 2 hours read

The Piano Lesson

Fiction | Play | Adult | Published in 1987

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Introduction

The Piano Lesson

  • Genre: Drama; historical fiction
  • Originally Published: 1987
  • Reading Level/Interest: Grades 9-11; college/adult
  • Structure/Length: 2 acts with 2 scenes in Act I and 5 scenes in Act II; approx. 108 pages; approx. 2 hours, 20 minutes running time.
  • Protagonist and Central Conflict: In this fourth play of Wilson’s collection of 10 plays known as The American Century Cycle, two siblings of the Charles family, Boy Willie and Berniece, argue over what to do with the piano left to them as a family heirloom. The play takes place in Pittsburgh in 1936.
  • Potential Sensitivity Issues: Racism; description of racial violence and acts of lynching; enslavement; violence; supernatural occurrences; use of the n-word in dialogue (quoted and obscured in the Study Guide).

August Wilson, Author

  • Bio: 1945-2005; born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; dropped out of high school at 15 after being accused of plagiarism; educated himself and read widely in the following years, often noting on coffee shop napkins ideas for poems and characters; inspired by the Black Arts Movement; helped found Pittsburgh’s Black Horizons Theatre (1968); met with significant success with Jitney and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; known for The American Century Cycle (also called The Pittsburgh Cycle), a group of 10 plays that reveal the Black American experience from the 1900s to the 1990s; received two Pulitzer Prizes (for The Piano Lesson and Fences)
  • Other Works: Jitney (1982); Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1984); Fences (1987); Gem of the Ocean (2003)
  • Awards: Tony Awards for Best Play and Best Direction (1990); Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Play and Outstanding Director (1990); Pulitzer Prize for Drama (1990); New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award (1990)

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