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An August Encounter

Written by Ervin Dyer

Author Ervin Dyer (right) with August Wilson in 1997. Two years later, after another interview, the playwright signed the photograph,“The struggle continues,” a popular 1960s salutation used to encourage others in the long march for racial justice.

Author Ervin Dyer (right) with August Wilson in 1997. Two years later, after another interview, the playwright signed the photograph,“The struggle continues,” a popular 1960s salutation used to encourage others in the long march for racial justice.

Once in a lifetime, as a reporter, if you’re lucky, you get a moment that shines brighter than any other. My moment came 12 summers ago when I hopped into a Chevy Lumina with three other people and drove all night to Chicago.

A filmmaker, his young apprentice, a reporting intern, and myself—a journalist with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at the time—had an appointment with playwright August Wilson. We met at Chicago’s charming Whitehall Hotel. At about 3 p.m., Wilson knocked at the door. He entered, wearing a natty cap and faint smile. He seemed hesitant, answering questions with measured pauses. I was star-struck.

About 40 minutes later, the conversation grew more intimate. Wilson began reflecting on life in the Hill District. Suddenly, all strangeness melted away as he chatted warmly about family and friends. He chatted about blues music, too, and how it helped him find his literary soul. I chatted about disco.

For three hours—180 minutes—great stories and characters tumbled from his memories. The playwright seemed ready to share a thousand tales. Then, in my stumbling naiveté, I shut the interview down, telling him I was due somewhere else. We all had to leave. It was our mistake to think three hours would be enough time. Now I realize that he could have talked for several more hours, and I would have been that much the better for it. In parting, I shook his hand and posed for a photograph before going somewhere that has now faded from my mind.

I met August Wilson at least twice more, but his time was more hurried than before. No matter how long we talked, no matter how generous his spirit, I was forever haunted by the moment I let slip away, with so many stories left untold.

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