Wilson was a playwright who emerged out of the scrappy Off-Off-Broadway scene to compose humane, lyrical dramas of American life that played on Broadway and in theatres around the world. Mr. Wilson himself was from Missouri, and treated the characters in his plays with the even, reasonable perspective of a Midwesterner. He was born to Ralph Eugene and Violetta Tate Wilson in Lebanon, MO.
After a six-year stay in Chicago, where he attended the University of Chicago and began writing plays, he moved to New York in 1960. His first produced works were mainly experimental one-acts such as Ludlow Fair, Home Free!, and The Madness of Lady Bright. Mr. Wilson's work was first seen in such bohemian, downtown dens as Caffe Cino and Cafe LaMaMa E.T.C. His youthful colleagues at that time of artistic revolution included writers Sam Shepard, Leonard Melfi, John Guare and Jean Claude van Itallie. He said the best advice he ever received was from Cino: "Do what you have to do."
In 1969, he created his own artistic home. He was one of four founding members of the Circle Repertory Company, a troupe dedicated to a policy of company playwrights writing for company actor. The theatre became an influential Off-Broadway hothouse of talent during the 1970s, and it was there that many of his Mr. Wilson's significant works debuted, including The Hot l Baltimore, Fifth of July and Talley's Folly. Most were directed by Circle Rep co-founder Mason. Together the two men formed one of the most formidable playwright-director teams in the annals of American theatre.
Mr. Wilson won the Pulitzer Prize for Talley's Folly, one of his mildest works, and the central and most famous play in his "Talley Trilogy."
His other plays included The Rimers of Eldritch, The Gingham Dog, Lemon Sky, Angels Fall, Serenading Louie, The Mound Builders, among others. Several of these played Broadway in the 1970s and 1980s, and he was nominated for Tony Awards for Angels Fall, Fifth of July and Talley's Folly.