Romulus Linney is the author of novels—Heathen Valley (1962), Slowly, by Thy Hand Unfurled (1965), and Jesus Tales (1980)—as well as innumerable articles, reviews, poems, and short fiction, published in The New York Times Sunday Book Review, New York Quarterly, and elsewhere.
Romulus Linney’s dramatic achievements are in two areas: historical biography and Appalachian mountain tales. He is ranked high among the few American playwrights writing historical drama for the contemporary theater. Without sacrificing theatricality, Linney brings to the stage the soaring language and large ideas that have been attributed to other great dramatic eras. In addition, through his folk plays dealing with Appalachian areas, he became a voice for the rural lifestyles in danger of extinction in the United States. Like John Millington Synge in Ireland and Federico García Lorca in Spain, Linney captures the unique features of the speech of the rural areas of the Carolinas, Virginias, and Tennessee.
The much-produced Linney has been the recipient of virtually every major playwriting award and fellowship in the United States, including those of the National Endowment for the Arts (1974), the Guggenheim Foundation (1980), an Obie Award (1980), and a 1992 Obie Award for Sustained Excellence in Playwriting. In 1984, he was honored with an Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He also held two National Critics Awards (1988 and 1990). While his plays have been performed all over the United States and Europe, he had a special relationship with the Whole Theatre in New Jersey and the Philadelphia Festival Theatre.
DiGaetani, John L. A Search for a Postmodern Theater: Interviews with Contemporary Playwrights. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991. An interview with Linney that concentrates on his influences (Pär Lagerkvist, the Swedish playwright and novelist among them) and on the relationship between language and writing for the theater. Includes good discussions of several works, including Childe Byron.
Disch, Thomas M. “Holy Ghosts.” The Nation 245 (September 19, 1987): 282-283. Disch is impressed with virtually all of Linney’s New York work; he claims that Holy Ghosts should be a standard like the works of Tennessee Williams or Henrik Ibsen. The essay provides an overview of Linney’s work and addresses his Broadway problems and Clive Barnes’s unfavorable review of The Love Suicide at Schofield Barracks.
Disch, Thomas M. “Theater.” The Nation 252 (March 18, 1991): 355-356. When Linney’s play Unchanging Love moved from its premiere performance in Milwaukee to its New York premiere with the same director, John Dillon, Disch once again took the opportunity to speak highly of Linney’s whole canon.
Linney, Romulus. “An Interview with Romulus Linney.” Interview by Don B. Wilmeth. Studies in American Drama 2 (1986). Discusses Linney’s ideas.
Linney, Romulus. “Romulus Linney on ‘Sublime Gossip.’” Interview by Harold Tedford. Southern Theatre 38 (Spring, 1997): 26-32. Linney discusses his background and motivations for the three types of plays he writes: historical plays, Appalachian dramas, and a “grab-bag of personal plays” inspired by friends in the arts and Army experiences. He states his view that literature is more or less sublime gossip but has to be good gossip at its best.
Moe, Christian H. “Romulus Linney.” In Contemporary Dramatists, edited by Thomas Riggs. 6th ed. Detroit: St. James Press, 1999. Contains a critical essay, a chronology, and biographical details. Observes that Linney’s dramas often develop protagonists who enter into or mature in environments in which they confront repressive values that either tempt or victimize them. These characters test or evaluate such values against their own needs and beliefs and ultimately determine to accept or reject them.
Rich, Frank. “Theater: Holy Ghosts Salvation for the Lonely.” The New York Times, August 12, 1987, p. C17. In this review of Holy Ghosts, Rich finds that Linney “unfurls an arresting sensibility closer to that of Eudora Welty than Sinclair Lewis.”