Playwright August Wilson was born on April 27, 1945 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His experiences of living in a primarily black community and then being the only black student in his class at a Roman Catholic high school would inform his dramatic writings. He dropped out of school at the age of 15 and continued his education on his own. Wilson wrote a ten play cycle that chronicles each decade of the black experience in the 20th century. Each of his plays focuses on what he perceived as the largest issue to confront African-Americans in that decade. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Fences and Piano Lesson, the best play Tony Award for Fences, and seven New York Drama Critics' Circle awards. He also received the Whiting Foundation Award, the American Theatre Critics Award, the 1999 National Humanities Medal awarded by the President, and numerous honorary degrees. He died of liver cancer on October 2, 2005 at the age of 60.
Poet and novelist Ismael Reed was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on February 22, 1938 and grew up in Buffalo, New York. After attending the State University of New York at Buffalo, he moved to New York City, where he became a co-founder of the East Village Other, a journal of experimental writing. From New York, he moved to Berkeley, California, and started the Yardbird Publishing Company. Reed's fiction draws upon myth, magic, and ritual to produce a literature that attempts to be larger than life. He has been called an ironist, whose explorations of United States history in general and African American history in particular reveal deep scars in the culture that no amount of technology can heal. Reed tries to incorporate multimedia and nonlinear techniques into his writing style. He has defended his eclectic techniques with spirit, however: "Many people call my fiction muddled, crazy, incoherent because I've attempted in fiction the techniques and forms painters, dancers, film makers, musicians in the West have taken for granted for at least 50 years, and the artists of many other cultures, for thousands of years." His other published books include: six collections of poetry, including: New and Collected Poems, 1964-2007; eight collections of essays, most recently Barack Obama and the Jim Crow Media: The Return of the Nigger Breakers (2010); Gethsemane Park; The Reed Reader (2000); Blues City: A Walk in Oakland (2003); and six plays, collected by Dalkey Archive Press as Ishmael Reed, The Plays (2009).