I posted some August Wilson links when his terminal condition was first announced, but now with the news of his untimely death, I thought in particular of the lead for my Gem of the Ocean preview:
August Wilson told me a secret: how to keep a character alive for centuries.
When I'd heard that Aunt Ester, a death-defying 300-year-old healer mentioned but never seen in Wilson's Two Trains Running and King Hedley II, would be the central character of his new Gem of the Ocean, opening at the Mark Taper Forum this week, I wondered how this supernatural character would fit into the naturalistic world his plays usually occupy.
"Obviously nobody can live to be 300, but her memory is kept alive--it's passed on from generation to generation," he explained. His solution, then, is to make her a sort of human talisman--an identity passed like a mantle from one "Aunt Ester" to the next. So by the time Gem opens in 1904, there have already been "about four or five Aunt Esters," and though the Ester we see (played by Phylicia Rashad), puts her age at 287, she's really "about 72 years old," said Wilson. "She has been consciously carrying the memory, the tradition of Africans."
Who will carry on that memory now that August has fallen? I'll give him the last word, from this 2000 interview:
I don't believe there's any idea that cannot be contained by black life, or any of the full variety of human experience; I believe that world is capable of sustaining you, so that when you leave your father's house you are fully clothed in manners and a way of life that is sufficient. Only when you are centered around self-sufficiency can you make a contribution to the society in which we all live.