Authors: DuBose Heyward

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American playwright, novelist, and poet

Author Works


An Artistic Triumph, pr. 1913

Porgy, pr., pb. 1927 (with Dorothy Heyward; adaptation of his novel)

Brass Ankle, pr., pb. 1931

Porgy and Bess, pr., pb. 1935 (libretto; music by George Gershwin; adaptation of Porgy)

Mamba’s Daughters, pr., pb. 1939 (with Dorothy Heyward; adaptation of his novel)

Long Fiction:

Porgy, 1925

Angel, 1926

Mamba’s Daughters, 1929

Peter Ashley, 1932

Lost Morning, 1936

Star Spangled Virgin, 1939

Short Fiction:

The Half Pint Flask, 1929


Carolina Chansons, 1922

Skylines and Horizons, 1924

Jasbo Brown, and Selected Poems, 1931


Edwin DuBose Heyward was born into a long-established white Charleston family. After his father, Edward Watkins Heyward, was killed in 1887 in a mill accident, his mother, Jane Screven Heyward, worked as a seamstress to support Heyward and his younger sister Jeannie. Heyward began delivering the Charleston Evening Post in 1894. He entered high school in 1898 but soon dropped out to work in a hardware store.{$I[AN]9810000131}{$I[A]Heyward, DuBose}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Heyward, DuBose}{$I[tim]1885;Heyward, DuBose}

DuBose Heyward in 1931.

(Library of Congress)

Polio struck Heyward in 1903, leaving him an invalid for three years. In 1905, he worked as a cotton checker on a Charleston wharf with black stevedores. That same year, he suffered a typhoid attack, and in the following year he contracted pleurisy. After recuperating in Arizona for eighteen months, he returned to Charleston in 1908 and entered into an insurance and real-estate partnership with his boyhood friend Harry O’Neill.

Meanwhile, Heyward had begun writing poetry, fiction, and drama. His first one-act play, An Artistic Triumph, was produced in Charleston in 1913. While recuperating from a second attack of pleurisy in 1917, he took up painting. During World War I, he worked among Charleston’s African American population for the war effort. In 1918, he met the fiction writer and poet John Bennett, who gave him artistic advice. Hervey Allen, a published poet and war veteran whom Heyward met in 1919, convinced him to write poetry. Encouraged by Bennett and Allen, Heyward founded the Poetry Society of South Carolina; he edited the group’s yearbook from 1921 to 1924 and served as its president from 1924 to 1925.

In 1921, Heyward spent the first of several summers at the MacDowell Colony of writers and artists in Peterboro, New Hampshire, where he met Edwin Arlington Robinson, Stephen Vincent Benét, Thornton Wilder, Constance Rourke, and the Ohio playwright Dorothy Kuhns, whom he married on September 22, 1923, in New York City. They lived at 76 Church Street in Charleston, across from the courtyard on which Heyward modeled Catfish Row. Their only surviving child, Jenifer, was born in 1930.

In 1922, Heyward published his first volume of poems, Carolina Chansons, and wrote “Poetry South” with Allen for Poetry magazine. Heyward’s most successful novel, Porgy, published in October, 1925, is the story of a lame black beggar on Catfish Row defending his girlfriend Bess from her former lover Crown. Together with his wife, Heyward wrote the play version of the story, which was produced on Broadway in October, 1927. Pleased with their success, the Heywards took the first of two trips abroad to Europe, where they visited Hugh Walpole in Cornwall, England. Their second trip, taken in 1929, included journeys to the Mediterranean and the Holy Land. The novel Mamba’s Daughters, a 1929 Literary Guild Selection, brought further success, and a second play, Brass Ankle, appeared on Broadway in 1931, the same year that Heyward attended a Southern Writers Conference with William Faulkner and Ellen Glasgow.

In 1933 and 1934, Heyward wrote film scenarios for Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones and Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth. Also in 1934, he spent a week in New York City and a month on Folly Island with George Gershwin. Porgy had attracted Gershwin’s attention in 1926, and he collaborated with his brother Ira and with Dorothy and DuBose Heyward to produce the musical Porgy and Bess, which was given its debut on Broadway on October 10, 1935.

In 1939, Heyward was named resident director of Charleston’s Dock Street Theater. Later that year, a play version of Mamba’s Daughters, also written in collaboration with his wife, was produced on Broadway. After his death on June 16, 1940, in North Carolina, Heyward was buried in Charleston. Dorothy Heyward’s play Set My People Free, begun by her husband, was produced on Broadway in 1948. In 1952, she worked to have Heyward acknowledged with Gershwin as author of Porgy and Bess. She died on November 19, 1961.

BibliographyAllen, 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.
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