Playwright August Wilson

Playwright August Wilson during rehearsals of "Radio Golf" at the Yale Repertory Thearte in 2005. (Cloe Poisson, The Hartford Courant)

'In midsummer 1982, August Wilson stepped onto the grassy campus of the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, wondering whether a clerical error had brought him to the prestigious National Playwrights Conference," The Hartford Courant wrote, describing the arrival of a new playwright who would be a major force in the American theater.

His play that summer — "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" — would be the first work of what would become his 10-piece cycle chronicling decade-by-decade the African-American experience in the 20th century.

Lloyd Richards, the conference's artistic director, became a mentor and guru for the self-taught, late-30s playwright, guiding Wilson's fledgling play — and many others after —first to the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, then through other regional theaters as the works were further developed before finally moving to Broadway.

"I don't do research," Wilson would tell The Courant's longtime theater critic Malcolm Johnson in 1985. "That would put a strait-jacket on my imagination. It's too limited. ... I tried to make ['Ma Rainey'] as free as it could."

And the play soared, announcing a new and poetic and vivid voice in the theater, one that would dominate for the next two decades, winning Tony Awards, two Pulitzer Prizes and an endless list of prizes and accolades.

At the urging of James Bundy, the then-new artistic director of Yale Rep, and Wilson's longtime producer, business partner and close friend Ben Mordecai, Wilson returned to the Rep in 2005 to present "Radio Golf," bringing the final play of the cycle back to the place where it began.

He told the Courant in 2005: "Right now I feel like a baseball player who's rounding the bases and coming home. It's funny. In baseball you start at home and the object is to eventually return there as well. That's more or less what's happening now." He gives a slight smile. "So I guess I must have hit a home run."

Mordecai, 60, died of cancer during the run.

A few weeks after the play opened Wilson learned he had cancer. He died that September at the age of 60. But "Radio Golf" moved onto Broadway, completing, and in the nick of time, one of American theater's greatest triumphs.