Though attorney Paul Ellis has had a lot of help keeping uncle August Wilson’s childhood home from being destroyed by the elements, demolished by the City of Pittsburgh, or just deteriorating beyond repair, last week he got some Hollywood help—from Denzel Washington.
Washington, who filmed the movie version of Wilson’s “Fences” here two years ago, joined Ellis, other Wilson family members, actors, students and politicians in the backyard of Wilson’s childhood home to announce a major contribution to the preservation efforts. Not even a poorly-timed cloudburst could dampen the spirit.
“I love August Wilson. He touches my soul, our souls, in a way that no one I’ve ever read has. This is like coming home to me. And it’s a privilege and an honor and a responsibility to be a part of this, of his monument. It means so much to me,” said Washington, during a groundblessing ceremony, Sept. 26, along Bedford Avenue. “I want to thank the people who’ve helped me raise $5 million so far: Oprah Winfrey, she gave me a million dollars; Tyler Perry gave me a million dollars, Antwan Fuqua, Spike Lee, Shonda Rhimes and Samuel L. Jackson, they all gave me money. So, I’m thankful, I’m hopeful and I’m proud to be part of this.”
Washington is producing the other nine plays in Wilson’s 10-play cycle for HBO. As for the preservation project, when completed it will not only serve as a museum displaying artifacts from his life and plays, but will also provide also house artists studios, literary workshops and classes. And of course, Wilson’s plays will continue to be performed in the backyard—rain or shine.
“I’ve done two of August’s plays here in this space, this hallowed ground—and both times, it rained,” said actor Wali Jamal. “It’s par for the course.”
Ellis began the project in 2006 with a $35,000 grant from the Pittsburgh Foundation for a feasibility study. “It’s been an incredible journey to preserve his gift,” he said. “He gave us a century of culture and history—lessons we can learn from and use to motivate young people.”
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