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Seven Guitars Paperback – August 1, 1997

4.5 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"The seven guitars of the title are the seven characters whose straightforward story lines Wilson turns into beautiful, complex music—a funky wailing, irresistible Chicago blues."
—John Lahr, The New Yorker

"Riveting. . . . Wilson's mastery of time and character has never been more apparent."
Boston Globe

"A play whose epic proportions and abundant spirit remind us of what the American theater once was. . . . As funny as it is moving and lyrical."
—Vincent Canby, New York Times

"August Wilson is a remarkable American playwright. Seven Guitars is a formidably impressive tragi-comedy. This writing is as like and unlike Arthur Miller, as Duke Ellinton is as like and unlike Igor Stravinsky."
—Clive Barnes, New York Post

"Full of quiet truth . . . mesmerizing . . . a major voice in our theater . . . unusually powerful."
—Howard Kissel, New York Daily News

"A gritty, lyrical polyphony of voices that evokes the character and destiny of men and women who can't help singing the blues even when they're just talking. Bristles with symbolism, with rituals of word and action that explode into anguished eloquence and finally into violence."
—Jack Kroll, Newsweek

About the Author

August Wilson is a major American playwright whose work has been consistently acclaimed as among the finest of the American theater. His first play, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for best new play of 1984-85. His second play, Fences, won numerous awards for best play of the year, 1987, including the Tony Award, the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award, the Drama Desk Award, and the Pulitzer Prize. Joe Turner's Come and Gone, his third play, was also voted best play of 1987-88 by the New York Drama Critics' Circle. In 1990, Wilson was awarded his second Pulitzer Prize for The Piano Lesson.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 107 pages
  • Publisher: Plume; Reprint edition (August 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452276926
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452276925
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #359,070 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Tyler Smith on June 8, 2000
Format: Paperback
Although not quite on a par with "Fences" or "The Piano Lesson," Wilson's story of a blues musician and his companions in the late '40s is still a compelling read. As usual, he creates music in the language of his characters, all of whom are distinctly drawn.
"Seven Guitars" recounts the fate of a Pittsburgh blues musician, Floyd "Schoolboy" Barton, who scores a hit record in Chicago, but falls short of capitalizing on his success, either with his music, or with his on-again, off-again love, Vera. Along the way, we meet his musician friends, Canewell and Red, his crusty neighbor Louise, the seductive young visitor Ruby, and the mysterious Hedley, who orates on Marcus Garvey, Ethiopia and Buddy Bolden while he goes about his job butchering chickens for sale on the streets of Pittsburgh.
The play's vibrancy springs not only from the characters' plain-spoken poetry, but from Wilson's knowledge of blues, folk legends, superstitions and from his vivid recreation in print of a particular place: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which he has managed to turn into a place of literary myth.
As in "Fences" and in his play set in the '60s, "Two Trains Running" Wilson relies strongly on a character verging on and descending into madness. In "Seven Guitars," it's Hedley, and the way you feel about the play will be determined in part by your reaction to this character and how Wilson uses him. For me, Hedley's motivation was a bit too murky, and his most important act at the end of the play did not mesh well with the motivation Wilson developed for Floyd, the ambitious bluesman.
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Format: Paperback
August Wilson's play "Seven Guitars" had its Broadway premiere in 1996. The play follows seven African-American characters, both male and female, in Pittsburgh in 1948. The first scene opens after the funeral of one character, and the play then moves back in time to tell his story.
There is a lot of excellent material in this play. Wilson expertly weaves in songs, humor, one character's recipe for turnip greens, and a funny discourse on the difference between Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi roosters. One character, Floyd, is a talented musician, and his arc offers a perspective on African-American artistic aspiration.
Probably the most memorable character in the play is Hedley, a hardworking entrepreneur who is tormented by rage and lust. His dialogue is particularly rich, as he invokes Toussaint L'Ouverture, Marcus Garvey, and traditional African-American biblical interpretation. Overall, "Seven Guitars" is a frequently compelling play with well-written dialogue.
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Format: Hardcover
Okay, blame it on the recently departed Studs Terkel and his damn interview books. I had just been reading his "The Spectator", a compilation of some of his interviews of various authors, actors and other celebrities from his long-running Chicago radio program when I came across an interview that he had with the playwright under review here, August Wilson. Of course, that interview dealt with things near and dear to their hearts on the cultural front and mine as well. Our mutual love of the blues, our concerns about the history and fate of black people and the other oppressed of capitalist society and our need to express ourselves politically in the best way we can. For Studs it was the incessant interviews, for me it is incessant political activity and for the late August Wilson it was his incessant devotion to his century cycle of ten plays that covered a range of black experiences over the 20th century.

Strangely, although I was familiar with the name of the playwright August Wilson and was aware that he had produced a number of plays that were performed at a college-sponsored repertory theater here in Boston I had not seen or read his plays prior to reading the Terkel interview. Naturally when I read there that one of the plays being discussed was entitled "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" about the legendary female blues singer from the 1920's I ran out to get a copy of the play. That play has been reviewed elsewhere in this space but as is my habit when I read an author who "speaks" to me I grab everything I can by him or her to see where they are going with the work.
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Format: Paperback
Seven Guitars is a play by August Wilson, one of ten plays in The Pittsburgh Cycle. The Cycle covers Black History in the United States of America, with one play for each decade. The plays are not strictly connected, but sometimes characters or the children of characters return, and they are connected through Black History, Jazz, The Blues, and other aspects of Black Culture. There is also often a mentally impaired oracular character, such as Hedley in Seven Guitars.

Seven Guitars is a play from the 40's, and it mainly concerns Floyd Barton, who is a Blues Musician who has recorded a hit song, "That's All Right" and is trying to get to Chicago where he has been invited to record some more. Hedley makes his living by tending and cooking chickens, but he may not be right in the head. He often refers to trumpeter Buddy Bolden and a Black Folk song where the legendary New Orleans jazzman returns bearing money. As Hedley becomes increasingly unhinged Floyd is still trying to get to Chicago; and also trying to convince old flame Vera to go with him. He needs to get his guitar out of hock, as he is booked to play a dance for Mother's Day, and then on to Chicago.

This is the first play I have read from August Wilson's cycle, and it makes me curious to read the rest, though now that I know the chronology, I will start with Gem of the Ocean and work my way through. Better yet, I would like to see the plays performed, to really experience them as they were intended. I like how he has encapsulated a century of history into ten plays. One thing that perplexed me about Seven Guitars though: I only counted one guitar, and kept waiting for the other six to make their appearance.
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