Lanford Wilson

Make it as personal as you can. Believe me, you can’t imagine a feeling everyone hasn’t had. Make it personal, tell the truth and then write “burn this” on it. – Burn This

Lanford Wilson passed away last week. And while I haven’t read a Wilson play in a long time, two of his works were extremely influential to me as a young writer. Burn This (1987) and Lemon Sky (1970) I read and re-read both these plays so much I’m know their styles and their rhythms wormed their way into my sub-conscious writing methodology.

I actually saw Lemon Sky as a play, on television – there’s a PBS (maybe? Long time ago) version that started Kevin Bacon. The play is past and present and overlapping dialogue and talking to the audience, and family pain. I have distinct memory that the dialogue made me SIT UP. You know when you see something and it just makes your spine grow twice in size? When you recognize a way of writing (or singing, or painting, or making movies or whatever floats by) that speaks in such a way that you realize something quite similar has been in your head, and maybe that thing is not so crazy after all. That’s a remarkable feeling.

Burn This, I have never seen, only read. At this point, I’m not sure I want to, I have such a sound memory etched into my brain. The sound of the dialogue in Burn This just leapt off the page for me. It was so alive I could see the rhythm bouncing in every line of type, the play was all rhythm. It was one of the few plays I’ve ever read (aside from Mamet) where I really believed in the swearing. These characters HAD to swear. And there’s a lot of swearing. But again it was a play that made me SIT UP. I read it so much the cover got worn. I read it so much I copied sections of dialogue into my diary. When I think about writing in a rhythm, it is the dialogue from this play (and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but that’s another story) that comes to mind.

I found this short Dramatist Guild video between Lanford Wilson and Craig Lucas where Wilson talks about the hardest part of writing a play. Enjoy.

About the author

Lindsay Price


  • I came of age with Mr. Wilson. When I heard the news of his passing, I took out Balm in Gilead and all of his plays (priced then at about $1.00 – I keep his plays forever) and read all night, sighing, “yes.” I know those people. “Yes” that’s how people speak. The Circle in the Village was a remarkable place. A playwright/director partnership is such a boon to the theatre’s collaborative process. Wilson was fortunate to have that – but it does not take away from his huge talent.

  • Hi Lindsay,
    The video you linked is no longer working, but I tracked the same video down on the Dramatist Guild’s website. You may go to this link and choose the video from the list on the right side. Thanks for sharing.