DuBose Heyward Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

ph_0111207657-Heyward.jpg DuBose Heyward in 1931. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

In addition to three plays and the libretto for Porgy and Bess, DuBose Heyward was the author of poetry, short stories, and novels. In his own time, he probably achieved more recognition as a novelist than as a playwright. In fact, his plays Porgy and Mamba’s Daughters are dramatizations of his novels of the same titles, set in African American communities in and around Charleston, South Carolina. Heyward’s final novel, Star Spangled Virgin (1939), also has African American characters, but it is set on St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. Heyward also wrote three novels featuring white characters. Angel (1926) is about the mountaineers of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Lost Morning (1936), set in the Piedmont, deals with an artist trying to regain his artistic integrity. Peter Ashley (1932) is a historical novel set in Charleston at the beginning of the Civil War. The Half Pint Flask (1929), Heyward’s best short story, was published separately as a book. Heyward also published volumes of poetry: Carolina Chansons (1922), Skylines and Horizons (1924), and Jasbo Brown and Selected Poems (1931).


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

DuBose Heyward, a famous writer in his own time, is a comparatively obscure figure today. His characters, however, have become part of the American folklore. People who have not heard of Heyward nevertheless do know Porgy, thanks primarily to the success of what has come to be thought of as George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. It must be remembered, though, that Heyward wrote the libretto as well as many of the lyrics of Porgy and Bess. According to virtually all sources, he also helped shape all other aspects of the production of what was undeniably America’s first folk opera . Through Porgy and Bess, Mamba’s Daughters, and Brass Ankle, Heyward made at least two other contributions to American theater: Arguably, he was the first American playwright to treat African Americans as human beings in their own right, not as mere accessories to whites, and to portray them in this way in their own communities. Langston Hughes describes Heyward as one who saw “with his white eyes, wonderful poetic, human qualities in the inhabitants of Catfish Row.” Heyward’s plays with African American characters also hastened the acceptance of blacks as serious actors. Ethel Waters in Mamba’s Daughters, for example, was the first African American actress ever to star on Broadway in a dramatic play.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Allen, Hervey. Du Bose Heyward: A Critical and Biographical Sketch. 1927. Reprint. Folcroft, Pa.: Folcroft Press, 1970. A brief portrait that includes contemporary estimates of his work.

Alpert, Hollis. The Life and Times of Porgy and Bess: The Story of an American Classic. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990. Alpert tells the interesting story—flavored with the spirit of the 1920’s and 1930’s—of how Heyward wrote Porgy as a novel, how his wife turned it into a hit play, and how George Gershwin presented his own version in 1935.

Clark, Emily. “DuBose Heyward.” The Virginia Quarterly Review 6 (October, 1930): 546-556. A recollection of Heyward by one who knew him through the Poetry Society of South Carolina. Clark recalls her first meeting with Heyward and tells of their subsequent correspondence and meetings. Revealing in its anecdotes of racial attitudes.

Durham, Frank. DuBose Heyward: The Man Who Wrote “Porgy.” 1954. Reprint. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1965. The first book-length study of Heyward. The introduction, “Young Man in an Old City,” provides excellent background material, and three chapters deal well with Heyward and the theater: “Porgy on Stage,” “Porgy and George Gershwin,” and “Mamba and Ethel Waters.”

Harrigan, Anthony. “DuBose Heyward: Memorialist and Realist.” The Georgia Review 5 (1951): 335-344. Harrigan identifies Heyward as “the finest expression of the Southern literary genius” and finds this genius expressed not in mythmaking about the South but in convincing representations of the Charleston culture in which he thrived.

Hutchisson, James M. DuBose Heyward: A Charleston Gentleman and the World of “Porgy and Bess.” Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2000. Hutchisson describes the world in which Heyward lived—Charleston, North Carolina—and how it influenced his writing. He portrays him as a promoter of southern writing and a progressive interested in helping African Americans.

Slavick, William H. DuBose Heyward. Boston: Twayne, 1981. Slavick is excellent at depicting the Charleston world in which Heyward flourished. The cultural history is presented in “A Charleston Gentleman and the World of Letters,” and the Charleston ambience is described in “The Irony of Freedom in Charleston: Porgy.” The dramatization of Mamba’s Daughters is analyzed in “The Rhythms of Charleston: Mamba’s Daughters.”

Watson, Charles S. The History of Southern Drama. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1997. Watson devotes a chapter to a discussion of Heyward in his history of drama in the South.