Patti Hartigan’s comprehensive August Wilson: A Life is the first biography of the playwright (1945–2005), who seems to have been simultaneously the quirkiest and most ordinary guy (as if in alternating paragraphs, and not unlike many of his characters)—a mysterious artist who conjured the Hill District of Pittsburgh into a layered, coherent myth even as he obsessed over current events. Hartigan admires Wilson and seems to understand him intuitively while finding vantage points for measured, relevant critiques. She has created a balanced portrait of a man who liked to write (and/or talk and/or chain-smoke) in diners and coffee shops late into the night, made many human mistakes, and transmuted the communities he knew into an enduring contribution to literature and the performing arts.

Hartigan is a former theater critic of The...


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