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Gem of the Ocean

(The Century Cycle #1)

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  1,165 ratings  ·  106 reviews
“No one except perhaps Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams has aimed so high and achieved so much in the American theater.”—John Lahr, The New Yorker

“A swelling battle hymn of transporting beauty. Theatergoers who have followed August Wilson’s career will find in Gem a touchstone for everything else he has written.”—Ben Brantley, The New York Times

“Wilson’s juiciest mate
Paperback, 85 pages
Published May 1st 2006 by Theatre Communications Group (first published 2003)
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Average rating 4.08  · 
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Feb 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
As part of Black History Month, I wanted to include a play by August Wilson, a premier playwright who authored the Century Cycle: ten plays each focusing on one decade of the African American experience in the 20th century. Wilson won the Pulitzer for drama for both Fences and The Piano Lesson and additional awards for his other works. Although the last play to be completed, Gem of the Ocean commences the Century Cycle by glimpsing life in 1900s Pittsburgh.

It is 1904, and older African American
Bill Kerwin
Jul 16, 2017 rated it really liked it

Set in 1904, The Gem of the Ocean is the first play in Wilson’s “Century Cycle” (sometimes called “The Pittsburgh Cycle") of ten plays, each set in a different decade of the 20th century. It is a good place to start, for—other than mere chronology—it ably articulates the central themes of the cycle: how freedom is always partial, something continually sought, how both our dreams and our cynicism may hold us back—or spur us on—in our quest for freedom, depending on our knowledge of, and relations
Jan 16, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thanks to a generous and thoughtful Christmas gift from my sister, I'm kicking off my new year of reading by working through this beautiful boxed set of August Wilson's Century/Pittsburgh Cycle, ten plays chronicling various aspects of the Black experience in America, each play set in Pittsburgh's Hill district and representing a different decade of the 20th century.

Even though this is the next to last play Wilson wrote in this series, it represents the first decade and seemed like the best pla
Nov 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Profound and Meaningful.
I always find it astonishing how author/playwright August Wilson was able to harness so much depth and meaning into a play. Plays are short. The average play usually doesn't run more than two hours. Most plays in written form normally never exceed a little over one-hundred pages. Yet, an August Wilson play has a way of imparting so much in so little time that it puts to shame works with numerous words and pages. I think it almost encourages one to check their self. It
John Pistelli
It is perhaps an open question as to the order in which one should read August Wilson’s plays—the chronological order of the Century Cycle, Wilson’s ten-play decade-by-decade portrayal of the African-American experience in the twentieth century, moving from Gem of the Ocean to Radio Golf? the order of composition, in which case you would be reading Gem of the Ocean toward the end? the order of general-consensus quality, in which case you would probably go for Fences and Joe Turner’s Come and Gon ...more
Courtney H.
May 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: century-cycle
I put off doing the last of the Cycle reviews, in part because I was reluctant to be done with it all and in part because it is difficult to narrow in on what to say. Each of Wilson's plays overflows with plot and characters and voice. Even months later, I remain overwhelmed by each play and by the Cycle as a whole.

It is perhaps fitting that in the play following Aunt Ester's death, she is returned to the reader/viewer in the most central role she takes on in all of the Cycle. In 1904, she is i
Melanie Lee
Jun 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
While I'm doing my biannual read of the Harry Potter series, I thought I'd also read through, for the first time, the August Wilson "Century Cycle" of plays. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Wilson at the Langston Hughes Library in Corona, Queens, about 11 years ago. I enjoyed the TV-movie adaptation of The Piano Lesson, and I saw Joe Turner's Come and Gone on Broadway shortly after the Obamas saw it. I tried to see Radio Golf but it was sold out. I also reviewed a community theater production ...more
I didn't enjoy this play as much as the other Wilson's play I've read. I feltas if too many themes were packed inside of it and the ending wasn't as strong as other endings such as Joe Turners Come Gone or Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. I enjoyed the character of Aunt Ester and the tidbits of history that came from the play about American Slavery. I would recommend this play to anyone who wants a quick read since the play is only 80 pages in total. ...more
Mar 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I decided to read the entire August Wilson Century Cycle after seeing the excellent American Masters special on PBS produced partly by WQED. I'd seen a couple plays live and was not blown away but they were student presentations. Reading this, the first one... wow. Knocked me out. Brought tears to my eyes. I would love to see this performed by great actors. ...more
Michael McClain
Oct 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Another series I've been wanting to read this year is August Wilson's Century Cycle so here I am, starting chronologically with GEM OF THE OCEAN. In 1904, Citizen Barlow comes to the home of the healing matriarch Aunt Ester for absolution and redemption. What he encounters is an awakening to himself and the spirits of the African-Americans who came before him. Spiritual and full of sumptuous Wilson dialogue, the characters ponder the price of the freedom they have won and the responsibilities th ...more
Jul 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed books like this; it didn't take me long to finish this book. I wasn't on Goodreads to actually, leave a review but the storyline was good. I'm an August Wilson fan. Loved this story and Wilson's work. This book was an excellent introduction to the genius of the late August Wilson; he was a genius, an extraordinary playwright, and myth a writer who gives you a snapshot of the African-American experience in America. When I was in school, I was in performing arts so that is how I got into ...more
Jul 24, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I truly enjoyed this book. I was charmed by the characters and engrossed by the dialog. This is an excellent piece of work. This is my first read of the Century Cycle. I will reserve further comment (and perhaps alter my rating upward) after I have read more of the books in the cycle. Surely this book, and I would think the entire Century Cycle, should be required reading in any high school curriculum. gwg
Jul 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: drama
I had a chance to see this performed at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The director of the play hailed August Wilson as the 20th Centuries Shakespeare in the notes. Well, I can not disclaim this statement without reading more, which I am hoping to do soon. Oh by the way this reads easily without having seen the play.
After watching the film Fences in December 2016 I decided I would read the 10 plays by August Wilson that make up his Century Cycle. I began with this play which is the first (chronologically) in the series. I thought this play was good but I felt there was something missing from it. I enjoy reading the wisdom from Aunt Ester and Solly Two Kings.
Dee Mills
Feb 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was an excellent read. I believe this is Wilson's first play in his decades series. His writing is so accessible. ...more
Mar 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: drama
Chronologically, the first in August Wilson’s ten-play, century long exploration of the African American experience, Gem of the Ocean was published in 2003, just two years before the dramatist’s death at 60. The Gem of the Ocean is the name of an imaginary ship that assists individuals in a personal journey of spiritual rebirth. Aunt Ester, who may be centuries old, is the mystical source behind the ship. She resides in a house that once was a station on the Underground Railroad in Pittsburgh’s ...more
Izetta Autumn
Apr 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
Part of August Wilson's historic ten-play cycle, Gem of the Ocean is the story of Aunt Esther, a woman said to be over 300 years old with healing powers. Aunt Esther becomes a figure throughout Wilson's plays.

For those unfamiliar with Wilson's ten-play cycle, here's some background: Wilson, an extremely prolific playwright, made a commitment to write ten plays over a decade, each play corresponding to a decade in the lives and history of Black America - from Reconstruction to the early 2000s (Wi
Sep 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Plays are meant to be seen and not read, and I wish I had seen this one onstage. There is a dramatic moment when Citizen visits the City of Bones that must have been breathtaking when fully realized in front of an audience . . .

August Wilson wrote ten plays that took the African-American experience through the 20th century. Gem of the Ocean is set in 1904, and the leading character of Aunt Ester is billed as 285 years old, which puts her birth at 1619, when the first slaves arrived in Virginia.
Aug 04, 2007 rated it really liked it
Gem of the Ocean is the first in August Wilson's ten play cycle that chronicles the African-American experience in the twentieth century. Wilson wrote one for each decade. Gem of the Ocean is set in 1904. Like most though not all of the plays in the cycle, Gem is set in Pittsburgh. Perhaps the most memorable moments in the play are when the various characters speak to the living memory of human bondage and the fresh feeling of new freedom. Many of the characters were born in slavery and despite ...more
Jul 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing
A beautiful play with almost musical dialogue. The first in Wilson's African American cycle, it heavily addresses the lack of opportunity blacks had in post-Slavery America--even in the supposedly unsegregated North. I was also thrilled to meet early members of the Wilks family, a family name which returns to Aunt Ester's house in Radio Golf. ...more
Dec 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
In this first play of a ten play series, it is 1904 in Pittsburgh. African Americans are moving north to find freedom and jobs that are not available in the south.

Thoroughly enjoyed this play, the characters, the plot, the voice. It embodies the struggle, the pain, the joy of a newly freed people.
Sep 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I love this play...more to come
Oct 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: play
Steve Angelini
Jul 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing
wow...the trip to the "city of bones" was powerful stuff. this play made me question freedom and what it means to those that seek it. ...more
Nov 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The "journey to the City of Bones" is one of my favorite scenes in the history of theatre, to read or watch. ...more
Nov 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
One of the best productions I have ever worked on. I love this play, it is so beautifully written. August Wilson is in every one of his characters.
Oct 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Loved this play so, so much. This is my first Wilson play and I cannot wait to continue on with the Century Cycle.
Irma Mayorga
Mar 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: plays-read
Yeah. Again and again, Wilson. (Insert image of paper boat here, like the one I carry in the pages of this book).
Sep 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books I have ever read in my 21 years of living.
Sophfronia Scott
Mar 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I decided for 2019 to read all of Wilson's Century Cycle in the order of its decades, which is not the order in which they were written. I'm happy to meet in "Gem of the Ocean" the Aunt Ester I'd only heard referenced in other Wilson plays. I loved her heart and soul and her cleansing efforts to bring Citizen back to himself. This is a deep work with much to say about remembering one's ancestors and what of them is imprinted within us. ...more
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August Wilson was an American playwright. His literary legacy is the ten play series, The Pittsburgh Cycle, for which he received two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama. Each is set in a different decade, depicting the comic and tragic aspects of the African-American experience in the twentieth century.

Wilson was born Frederick August Kittel, Jr. in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the fourth

Other books in the series

The Century Cycle (10 books)
  • Joe Turner's Come and Gone
  • Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
  • The Piano Lesson
  • Seven Guitars
  • Fences (The Century Cycle #6)
  • Two Trains Running
  • Jitney
  • King Hedley II
  • Radio Golf

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  Kerine Wint is a software engineering graduate with more love for books than for computers. As an avid reader, writer, and fan of all things...
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