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Source: From ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SOUTHERN CULTURE edited by Charles Reagan Wilson and William Ferris Copyright (c) 1989 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher.

Paul Eliot Green, 1894-1981

Green, Paul, (1894-1981), playwright. Paul Green was born 17 March 1894 on a farm in Harnett County, near Lillington, N.C. He worked side by side with the black tenants and hired hands, whom he regarded as part of his larger family. He dramatized this background in his poems, stories, novels, and plays.

In the early 1920s he wrote one-act folk dramas as a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The No 'Count Boy, first published in 1924 in Theatre Arts Magazine, gave Green his first recognition beyond the South. In 1925 The No 'Count Boy won the Belasco Cup competition in New York City. In The Hawthorn Tree (1943) Green elaborated on his imaginative concept of the "folk," referring to "the people whose manners, ethics, religious and philosophical ideals are more nearly derived from and controlled by the ways of the outside physical world ... than by the ways and institutions of men in a specialized society." The success of The No 'Count Boy led to the publication of two collections of Paul Green's plays in 1923 and 1926. A longer version of one of these plays, In Abraham's Bosom, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in May 1927. Other Broadway plays were The Field God and The House of Connelly, subtitled A Drama of the Old South and the New. These plays helped establish Paul Green's place among America's leading playwrights.

Instead of writing for what he termed the commercial theater of New York, however, he decided to produce his plays outdoors, amalgamating pageant, music, dance, and poetry into a theater he created and named "symphonic drama." Celebrating events and characters in history as well as nationalistic myths, Green defined symphonic drama in his 1948 "Author's Note" to The Common Glory as "that type of drama in which all elements of theatre art are used to sound together—one for all and all for one, a true democracy. The theatre of such a drama is sensitized and charged with a fierce potential of evocation and expressiveness for any moment." The most famous of these symphonic dramas isThe Lost Colony (1937), the story of Sir Walter Raleigh's dream of settling America in the late 16th century. The play is produced each summer for thousands of visitors to North Carolina.

Paul Green recognized early the dramatic richness of his native South, championing always human rights and his thought that "the greatest sin society can commit is to cause a man to miss his own life."

Shelby Stephenson
Pembroke State University

Vincent Kenny, Paul Green (1971); Walter S. Lazenby, Jr., Paul Green (1970); William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, vol. 2 (1986).

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