A biography of the proper Charlestonian who wrote of the Gullahs of Catfish Row and inspired a Gershwin masterpiece
In 1924 DuBose Heyward (1885 - 1940) was a businessman absorbed in
his Charleston heritage. One year later
he was the world-famous author of
Porgy, the first major southern novel to
portray blacks without condescension.
Just a decade later George Gershwin
had transformed Heyward's book into
an opera that would become one of
the most enduring masterworks of
As a young man Heyward was
immersed in the Gullah culture
of his city. Especially through his
mother, a performer and interpreter of Gullah life in folktale and
song, he discovered the gateway into the fascinating world he
would immortalize in the characters of Porgy, Bess, Maria, and
other denizens of Charleston's Catfish Row. In this full-dress
biography Heyward is seen for the first time as a southerner who
overcame social restrictions to perceive humanity beyond class
and color lines. Drawing on nearly fifty years of private papers and
previously untapped personal correspondence, this book places
Heyward in the social and cultural framework of his time and
marks the power and empathy of his extraordinary achievement.
Until now, Heyward's role in the writing of George Gershwin's
acclaimed opera Porgy and Bess has remained almost unknown.
He wrote the libretto singlehandedly, and nearly half the arias are
by him. Long thought to have been merely an assistant to Gershwin,
he actually was involved in most phases of the production.
Although the opera eclipsed Heyward's book, it was Gershwin's
Mainly known today as the author of Porgy, Heyward was
a versatile artist equally at ease with verse, short fiction, novels,
plays, and Hollywood screenwriting. He and his wife Dorothy
helped to energize the nascent black theater movement in New
York. A cofounder of the Poetry Society of South Carolina, the first
regional poetry circle in America, Heyward became a vigorous
promoter of southern writing that was to peak in the great southern
Pulled by tradition into a way of life he did not completely
accept, he developed a growing social conscience through writing.
He began as a social conservative but ended his life as staunch
progressive committed to the advancement of African Americans.
James M. Hutchisson, Charleston, South Carolina, is professor
of English and director of graduate studies at The Citadel. He is
author of Poe, published by University Press of Mississippi.
224 pages (approx.), 6 x 9 inches, 24 b&w photographs, chronology, bibliography, index