A Year with August

Explore the complete works of Pulitzer Prize winning playwright August Wilson with Aurora Theater Company's Associate Artistic Director Dawn Monique Williams over the course of this monthly book club. Beginning with Gem of the Ocean, members will have the opportunity to engage in a deep dive of Wilson's Pittsburgh Cycle, a series of ten plays, each of which paint a portrait of Black life in America in a different decade of the twentieth century. Often referred to as the Century Cycle, Wilson's work exalts "the poetry in the everyday language of black America" and is among the most celebrated plays of the modern American canon. Unless otherwise specified, all meetings of this book club will be held virtually in a webinar format, where members can sign in from anywhere in the world to see the conversation. Be sure to register early to submit questions or participate live in the discussion. Dates and discussion material are as follows, and we encourage support of local bookstores when purchasing plays. Bookshop.orgIndiebound.org, and Marcus Books, in Oakland, California are all wonderful resources.


August 2020 | Gem Of The Ocean

Synopsis: August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle (a series of ten plays each set in a different decade) begins with Gem of the Ocean, which takes place in 1904 in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (where all of the cycle’s plays are set). Gem of the Ocean unfolds in the home of Aunt Ester, a well known 285-year-old wise woman of the town whose home has become a sanctuary for the troubled and lost. Onto the scene walks Citizen Barlow, a man who has fled from Alabama after indirectly causing another man’s death when he stole a bucket of nails. Citizen has come to Aunt Ester’s because of the tales he has heard of her soul-cleansing powers. We see Aunt Ester help guide him through a spiritual journey towards redemption and self-discovery. When an incident in the town causes the death of Solly, a former slave and conductor of the underground railroad who is dedicated to serving his people, we see Citizen step up and to continue Solly’s legacy, having discovered the importance of history and freedom. 

Gem of the Ocean  Plot & Characters

Virtual Book Club Dates

  • August 31 | Gem of the Ocean
  • September 21 | Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
  • October 12 | Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  • November 9 | The Piano Lesson
  • December 14 | Seven Guitars
  • January 11 | Fences
  • February 8 | Two Trains Running
  • March 8 | Jitney
  • April 12 | King Hedley II
  • May 10 | Radio Golf
  • June 14 | The Ground on Which I Stand
  • July 12 | TBD


Dawn Monique Williams, Associate Artistic Director

Dawn, a native of Oakland, CA, was Artistic Associate and a resident artist at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for six seasons where she directed Merry Wives of Windsor in 2017. Recent directing credits includes The Secretaries (Willamette Week’s Top 10 Portland Theatre Productions of 2018), A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, The Piano Lesson, and By the Way, Meet Stark.

She's worked in theatre across the US including: HERE Arts Center, Profile Theatre (Portland), American Conservatory Theatre, Chautauqua Theater Company, African American Shakespeare Company. Upcoming projects are Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown at Town Hall Theatre and Earthrise at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Dawn will make her Aurora Theatre directing debut with Bull in a China Shop this fall. Her awards include a Princess Grace Theatre Fellowship, a TCG Leadership U Residency Grant, the Killian Directing Fellowship at OSF, and a Drama League Directing Fellowship. She holds an MA in Dramatic Literature and an MFA in Directing. Dawn is a member of SDC.

August Wilson  
August Wilson was an award-winning American playwright best known for his play, Fences, which won the Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award. In 2016, Fences was made into a film starring Denzel Washington who also served as the film’s director. For his series of ten plays, The Pittsburgh Cycle, which depicts different aspects of the African-American experience in the U.S., Wilson received two Pulitzer Prizes for drama. In all, over the course of his career, Wilson amassed numerous other awards, including a Whiting Award, a Literary Lion Award from the New York Public Library, a Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame Award, the American Theatre Critics’ Association Award, the U.S. National Humanities Medal, an Olivier Award, and the Outer Critics Circle Award. In 2005, fourteen days after his death, New York City’s Virginia Theatre was renamed the August Wilson Theatre, becoming the first Broadway Theatre to bear the name of an African-American. In 2006, Wilson was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame. (Source: The Montgomery Fellows Program)