DuBose Heyward (August 31, 1885 – June 16, 1940) was an American author best known for his 1924 novel Porgy. With his wife Dorothy, whom he met at the MacDowell Colony in 1922, he was co-author of the non-musical play adapted from the novel. His play was the foundation of George Gershwin's opera Porgy and Bess. A descendant of Thomas Heyward, Jr., who was a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence as a representative of South Carolina, Heyward became a Charleston insurance and real-estate salesman with a long-standing and serious interest in literature. He became financially independent and abandoned his business to devote full time to writing.
Read works by Dubose Heyward, free from Project Gutenberg. Langston Hughes said Heyward was one who saw "with his white eyes, wonderful, poetic qualities in the inhabitants of Catfish Row that makes them come alive." Biographer James M. Hutchisson characterizes Porgy as "the first major southern novel to portray blacks without condescension" and states that the libretto to Porgy and Bess was largely Heyward's work. Others, however, have noted that the characters in Porgy, though viewed sympathetically, are still viewed for the most part as stereotypes. Many critics over time felt that Heyward was very accurate in his portrayal of the Southern black.
Heyward and his wife Dorothy spent many years in Charleston scrutinizing the blacks of that area. He also participated in an amateur Southern traditional singing society open to anyone whose family had lived on a plantation, whether as owner or slave. In Charleston Heyward found a majority of the inspiration for his book, including what would become the setting (Catfish Row) and the main character (a disabled man named Porgy). Literary critics cast Heyward as an authority on Southern literature. They later said, "Heyward's attention to detail and reality of the Southern black's lifestyle was not only sympathetic but something that no one had ever seen done before."During his time in Charleston, DuBose taught at the Porter Military Academy.
The non-musical play "Porgy" opened on Broadway in 1927, eight years before the opera Porgy and Bess. It was a considerable success—more so at the time than the Gershwin opera. It was the play that was used as the opera's libretto. The novel differs greatly from the play, especially in the ending. The plotline of the opera follows the play almost exactly. Large sections of dialogue from the play were set to music for the recitatives in the opera.
In his introduction to the section on DuBose Heyward in Invisible Giants: Fifty Americans Who Shaped the Nation But Missed the History Books, Stephen Sondheim wrote:
"DuBose Heyward has gone largely unrecognized as the author of the finest set of lyrics in the history of the American musical theater - namely, those of Porgy and Bess. There are two reasons for this, and they are connected. First, he was primarily a poet and novelist, and his only song lyrics were those that he wrote for Porgy. Second, some of them were written in collaboration with Ira Gershwin, a full-time lyricist, whose reputation in the musical theater was firmly established before the opera was written. But most of the lyrics in Porgy - and all of the distinguished ones - are by Heyward. I admire his theater songs for their deeply felt poetic style and their insight into character. It's a pity he didn't write any others. His work is sung, but he is unsung."
The novel Porgy became a bestseller in 1926. Heyward continued to explore writing with another novel set in Catfish Row, Mamba's Daughters (1929), which he and Dorothy again adapted as a play. His novella Star Spangled Virgin was about the domestic life, problems and creative solutions of a native hustler Adam Work. The book's setting is the island of St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. Heyward depicts it as an idyllic native society based on a small farming economy which breaks down due to the misguided programs of the New Deal.
He also wrote the screenplay for the adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones (1933). His work included a collection of poems, "Jasbo Brown and other poems" published in 1924 and a children's book, The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes published in 1939.