Title: Oral History Interview with Paul Green, May 30, 1975. Interview B-0005-3.
Interviewer: Hall, Jacquelyn
Interviewee: Green, Paul
Abstract: Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and activist Paul Green—most famous for his symphonic drama The Lost Colony—spent his youth at the turn of the twentieth century in rural Harnett County, North Carolina. There, he began to gather material on the stories of poverty, struggle, and race that would define his life as an artist and an activist. He discusses both art and activism in this interview, describing how regional and social context shaped his work, remembering overwrought stage actors who struggled to bring life to his salt-of-the-earth characters, and activists who seemed to thrive on the misery they sought to banish. These artists, distant from their subjects, share something with the intellectuals who were more devoted to their ideologies than to realizing their beliefs through pragmatic application of them, Green believes. Green, on the other hand, defined himself as an activist through direct action. In this interview, he remembers a number of cases of injustice in which he tried to intervene, including the case of a black teenager sentenced to death for rape, an instance of horrific cruelty at a prison camp, tobacco workers and janitors struggling with substandard wages, and the case of a fugitive communist organizer. Green's efforts, and the collective action he sought to inspire, met limited success, a fact reflected in some of Green's plays, in which poor folk struggle in vain against their ill fortune. This struggle—its motivations, its successes, and its failures—is at the heart of this interview, which will interest scholars of drama and history alike.