100 Years in One Life

August Wilson is on the final stretch of his 10-play epic. But he isn't through talking about racism, black actors--and why he doesn't read Shakespeare

August Wilson's mom, a cleaning woman trying to raise four kids in the Pittsburgh slums, won a radio contest once. She named the product that went with the ad slogan "When it rains, it pours" (Morton salt), and the prize was a new Speed Queen washing machine. When the station found out she was black, Wilson recounts, his mother was offered instead a certificate for a used washing machine from the Salvation Army. Friends told her to take it anyway; it was better than the old washboard she was using to scrub her kids' clothes. But she refused. "Something," she said,...

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