Columbus State University professor and playwright Natalia Temesgen is set to teach a new and unique class at the university this fall.
The upper-level English class will be based on 10 plays by August Wilson that illustrate his comprehensive look at African-Americans in the 20th century, Temesgen said. Wilson wrote his “Century Cycle” with each play focusing on one decade of the 1900s. “Fences,” the popular play turned critically-acclaimed film, is one of the more famous plays Temesgen will focus on during the course.
Temesgen has named the course “August Wilson’s Century Cycle” and has big plans for the content.
“Through an understanding of African-American history and dramatic elements/conventions, we will arrive at insightful opinions on Wilson’s work on both specific and overarching levels,” she said. “Our class will enjoy excellent film adaptations of some of his plays and uncover the fascinating cultural and historical elements that inspired and informed his work.”
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In addition to Wilson’s plays, Temesgen will incorporate other pieces of Wilson’s work into the class as well.
“I’ll be using each of the 10 plays that comprise the ‘Century Cycle’ as well as Wilson’s powerful speech given in 1996 called ‘The Ground on Which I Stand,’” she said. “It is informed by Wilson’s formative experiences in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and his sense of authority and mission in lifting up African-American voices in the American theater.”
Temesgen is no stranger to the importance of telling the stories of African-Americans in the theater. Her play “Ace: The Eugene Bullard Story” was recently produced by the Springer Opera House and is on track to be produced again in the near future. Her passion for telling the stories of minorities in America is something she said she shares with Wilson, and will inevitably be something she shares with her students throughout the course.
Temesgen is also pulling from other resources to inform her students of the over-arching impact of Wilson’s work.
“We will use Nell Irvin Painter’s excellent book called ‘Creating Black Americans: African-American History and Its Meanings, 1619 to the Present’ as a supplementary historical text as we study the plays,” she said. “We’ll also watch films of ‘The Piano Lesson’ and ‘Fences’ and discuss the impact that film has had on the plays.”
The course will encompass plays by Wilson that have been produced in Columbus by the Springer Opera House and the Liberty Theatre within the last several decades. Temesgen does not discount the positive impact these stories can have on students and their work.
“My hope is that our work in the classroom will leave through the students and affect their understanding of the work that American theater is capable of and the possibilities of using plays to tell the stories of minorities in this country,” Temesgen said. “Perhaps these students will be compelled to share Wilson’s plays in other forums in our community.”
Temesgen is looking forward to sharing Wilson’s plays with her students, and is excited to see the outcome of their discussions.
“My hope is that students will become more literate and knowledgeable about August Wilson and the African-American theater canon in general. He comprises so much of it and is essentially The Godfather of black theater in this country,” she said.
Although she is excited to be teaching this course at CSU, Temesgen did not pass up the opportunity to express her wish for these conversations to extend beyond her classroom.
“Readers should know that August Wilson is far more than just ‘Fences’ — though that play and its recent film adaptation are practically peerless in every regard,” she said. “He has done an exceptional thing in lifting up narratives of the African-American experience for every decade of the 20th century, and each play is excellent on its own merit.”