Paul Green of Chapel Hill|
Although he is now best known as author of The Lost Colony, still performed annually in North Carolina, Paul Green (1894-1981) was part of that remarkable generation of writers who first brought southern writing to the attention of the world. Winner of the 1927 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for In Abraham's Bosom, Green's concern for human rights characterized both his life and his writing, and his steady advocacy for educational and social reform and racial justice contributed in fundamental ways to the emerging New South in the first half of this century.
A native of Harnett County, North Carolina, Paul Green was a devoted teacher of philosophy and drama at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While still a student at UNC in the early 1920s, he began publishing stories in magazines and saw several of his plays produced in Chapel Hill and across the country, some to great acclaim.
A Pulitzer Prize for In Abraham's Bosom, which he received at age 33, brought him to the attention of a much larger public. In 1937, he wrote and oversaw the production of the first of his outdoor historical plays, The Lost Colony, staged on Roanoke Island off the coast of North Carolina. After World War II, Green devoted much of his attention to his outdoor historical plays, which were performed throughout the country.
In addition, Green published three volumes of short plays, two novels, five volumes of short stories, and five volumes of essays in his lifetime. The huge collection of folklore that he began in the 1920s and continued throughout his life was posthumously published in two volumes as Paul Green's Wordbook: An Alphabet of Reminiscence.
Even without his writings, Green's life and accomplishments are notable. In Chapel Hill during the 1920s, he had begun to speak out for the rights of black people in America, and during the 1930s, he devoted time to social causes such as prison reform, aid for textile workers in southern mills, and the abolition of capital punishment. He was an influential supporter of school desegregation during the turmoil following the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, and in the 1960s, he was an early and outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War. Through the seventies he argued vigorously for disarmament and against the arms race between the nuclear superpowers, frequently taking on his fellow North Carolinian, Senator Jesse Helms. When he died on May 4, 1981, at the age of 87, it was clear that his life had made a difference in the building of the New South and had contributed in important ways to North Carolina's growing reputation as the most progressive of southern states.
Green's political views, particularly on race, permeate his writings. The Negro plays and stories that he began writing in the 1920s are among the early attempts in U.S. literature to take seriously the experiences of black Americans. According to Avery, the black characters in Green's work are highly individualized and intensely imagined, yet share with one another the experience of living as a minority in a segregated society. In Abrahams Bosom focuses on a black man with a Moses-like vision of leading his people out of the bondage of poverty and ignorance through education.
Green's writings are brought to a new generation of readers in A Paul Green Reader, edited by Laurence G. Avery and published in May 1998. A professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Laurence G. Avery has been instrumental in keeping alive the legacy of Paul Green. His 1994 book, A Southern Life: Letters of Paul Green, 1916-1981, was widely reviewed and received the C. Hugh Holman Award from the Society for the Study of Southern Literature.
A Paul Green Reader is available for $17.95 (paperback) and $39.95 (hardcover) at bookstores or from the University of North Carolina Press. A Southern Life: Letters of Paul Green, 1916-1981 is available for $49.95 (hardcover). 1-800-848-6224. Say you saw it on the internet! Email ordering also available.
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