Context: August Wilson, who was born in 1945 and died in 2005, is considered to be one of the greatest playwrights in American history. During his lifetime, he created what he called the Pittsburgh Cycle, a series of ten plays, and each one represents a different decade of the 20th century. Wilson’s plays are all set in Pittsburgh, PA (where he was born) and focus on the African American experience. Fences, which debuted on Broadway in 1987 and won both the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a Tony Award, depicts the late 1950s when “the hot winds of change that would make the sixties a turbulent, racing, dangerous, and provocative decade had not yet begun to blow full” (Richards).
Check out this short video to learn more about August Wilson:
The Language and Content of Fences: One of Wilson’s trademarks is realistic dialogue, written in the vernacular of African Americans. In Fences, the N-word is used frequently by the main character, Troy Maxson. This may be a little jolting for some of you and it’s worth being prepared as you start to read Fences. In addition to the language, some of the content deals with disturbing imagery as well as verbal and physical confrontations.
Writing Task: Since our main focus this semester is to draw parallels between the past and present, Fences is an ideal snapshot of an African American family in the late 1950s as they are struggling to rectify the past (slavery) with their present (segregation, pre-Civil Rights), while looking towards the future (desegregation and more opportunity).
When you write your essay, you may use Fences and “Interpreting Drama” (as well as some of the other materials we are using in this Unit). Since plagiarism rules are in effect, do not take the chance of Googling once you are able to see the Prompt. In addition to reading the play, you may want to watch the 2016 film version of Fences, starring Academy Award winner Viola Davis as well as Denzel Washington, who also directed it. This is not required, but may help you to better understand the play.
The Areas on which you will be Evaluated (Rubric):
- Introduction and Conclusion: Does the essay have an engaging introduction and provide the essay’s thesis? Does the conclusion sum up the essay in an interesting and non-repetitive fashion?
- Thesis Statement: Does your thesis make a definitive claim about how your subject is or should be? How well does it answer the question(s) from the Prompt? Is it stated clearly and located in the correct spot?
- Evidence: Is your thesis well supported with evidence from Fences? You may also potentially use support from the film and “Interpreting Drama.” Do you provide commentary or analysis following your quotations and paraphrases?
- Organization: Does your organization lead the readers through your argument, step by step, building to your strongest ideas? Do you have three to four reasons that support your central argument? Do you use transitions?
- Audience: Do you take the reader’s views into account? Do you use a reasonable tone of voice? Do you consider the opposing side or the counter argument?
- Grammar and Mechanics: Does the essay have minimal grammatical, spelling, and mechanical errors?