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THE NEW NOTE IN SOUTHERN LITERATURE
By DuBose Heyward
T has been said that good taste is an Negro in literature during the period
outstanding characteristic of south- following the Civil War. In the well ern letters, and that this in itself con- bred southern drawing room of a decstitutes no mean contribution to con-' ade ago, the “Negro problem" was temporary American art. That such never mentioned. A discussion of the is the case is undeniable. The south- economic and spiritual strivings of the ern writer has applied himself with en- race would have implied that such a ergy and ability to his task, and he has problem existed; that in turn would produced a literature that has reflected have been disturbing, and accordingly certain aspects of his environment with “bad taste". This attitude was transfidelity and feeling. Most important mitted, simply by the weight of public of all, he accepted the trust imposed in opinion, to the writer. He knew that him by his audience, respected its ta- the raw stuff of human drama was there boos, and so produced literature that to his hand. But then there was was characterized by “good taste". George Cable. And so the authors
In many ways he was fortunate. who undertook to interpret Negro life The audience was already cultivated; divided themselves into two general it was rooted deep in Anglo-Saxon tra- classes: those who dealt altogether dedition. It knew and demanded good lightfully with the Negro of the past; English in what it read. It was con- and those who took the Negro's sense servative, and was uninterested in sen- of humor as a keynote, caricatured it sational filth. But now came the fatal beyond recognition, and produced a flaw. This audience also demanded comedian so detached from life that he strict adherence to its code of good taste, could be laughed at heartily without and the code which it prescribed was that the least disloyalty to the taboo. of the Victorian drawing room not art. Now the task that confronts the There were, therefore, certain aspects south today is simply this: to readjust of the life of the region that the writer its standards of good taste. Good must see only in part. Occasionally a taste in manners, if you will. But for daring spirit would ignore the signs. art, its own code of good taste, based The case of George Cable has been upon a fearless and veracious molding pointed out to more than one aspiring of the raw human material that lies besouthern, writer as a horrible example neath its hand. of the retribution of an outraged soci- That an increasing number from the ety. He had broken the "code of man- audience are realizing this, there can be ners”, and he was hanged in chains that no doubt. And in this fact lies the enothers might see and profit.
couragement and hope for southern To illustrate how this false standard letters of the future. No longer isocould inhibit, even pervert artistic en- lated by geographical detachment, the ergy, one has only to look upon the southern audience is eager for light, and, possessing a congenial feeling for cover the general field of southern literliterature, it needs only to be made fa- ature; that has been done most admirmiliar with the new symbols to recog- ably by Professor Richard Burton in nize the authentic in modern art. his recent survey in this magazine. It
Poetry societies which are enjoying is merely my intention to indicate this flourishing existences in five southern new quality, not yet discerniblefrom the states bring to their members each year lecture platform, and to offer a few exa number of America's leading poets amples which will make clear its actual and critics in lectures and readings. existence. Some of the names I shall Newspaper subscribers to the circu- mention may thus far have escaped the lation of 300,000 scattered from Texas notice of all but a discriminating few, to Virginia read each week the excellent but they are destined to be heard from syndicated column edited by Addison in the immediate future, for they have Hibbard under the name of Telfair, Jr., evidenced qualities that have already with its trenchant and interesting com- laid the foundation for a new phase of ments. Book pages are today part of southern letters. almost every paper of importance, and Let us take first the drama, in which are read with eagerness and intelligence. there occur more manifestations of the Then there are “The Reviewer", “The quality to which I refer than in either Southwest Review", "The Sewanee poetry or fiction. Consider the plays Review”, several other quarterlies, and of the Carolina mountains that have “The Double Dealer", all seeking enjoyed such a vogue in New York. eagerly for the young writer with some- In "Sun-up" and "The Shame Woman" thing to say. The fact that these pub- Lula Vollmer, of North Carolina, has lications are entirely uncommercial in given us a cross section of the lives of intention or appeal renders their edito- these dwellers in the southern Apparial policy unfettered.
lachians as illuminatingly and poignSubjected to these and other similar antly true as life itself. And Hatcher influences, the prejudices of the audi- Hughes, a native of South Carolina, ence are dissolving. It is beginning to in “Hell-Bent Fer Heaven” has taken concede that, after all, an artist may the effect of religious fanaticism on the be permitted to see the whole of his same repressed and isolated people, and subject and still not be a public menace. shown it as a deadly instrument of evil
Already, encouraged by this change and destruction. At least two of these in attitude, there has come a new note plays would have trod upon the toes in southern literature. There need be of certain conventions of a decade no fear of open license. Good taste ago, and yet there they are. Now still holds good. But there is a new turn to “Roseanne", by Nan Bagby method of approach, and a new and Stephens of Atlanta, which, although daring handling of old material that praised by critics, did not receive promises much vitality for the new the popular attention that it deschool. Within a surprisingly short served. Confronted by insurmounttime several writers have appeared who able mechanical difficulties, this playhave forsworn the shackles of their wright nevertheless presented in her immediate predecessors, and are ob- drama, for the first time on the Amerserving and recording with honesty and ican stage, a psychologically true fearlessness.
serious picture of contemporary southIt is not the purpose of this article to ern Negro life. In this demonstration she was gallantly backed by Mary since been made an associate editor of Kirkpatrick of Alabama, who allowed the reorganized "Southwest Review". the play to close only after experience This would not have happened even had proved that it is as impossible for five years ago. It did not happen to the southern black to be portrayed by the pioneer, George Cable. the Harlem Negro as by a northern Two books by South Carolinians canwhite, plus grease paint.
not be passed without comment, each Then, of course, there is Laurence being in its way an innovation in its Stallings, of Georgia, not dealing with approach to the Negro in the south. southern material it is true, but dis- In “The Black Border”, Ambrose E. playing, in “What Price Glory?", an Gonzales has combined the talents of a artistic ideal rather than a Victorian philologist, psychologist, and narrator good taste of manners which would in an authentic and priceless record of have been imposed upon him, I do not the fast disappearing Gulla Negro of doubt, by his forebears, and which the Carolina Low Country. While it would have forbidden the employment is true that his sketches accent the of his agonizing realism, thus destroy- humorous aspect of his subject, they ing the masterpiece created by Max- differ from the comic Negro fiction in well Anderson and himself.
that they do not exaggerate the racial In the south, which is hampered by characteristics. His people are essenthe lack of a professional producing tially human beings. theatre, the little theatre has spoken “Green Thursday", the second of clearly and fearlessly. At the Univer- the books that I have in mind, is by sity of North Carolina, Frederick H. Julia Peterkin, and presents a number Koch, with his own student play- of portraits done with an intense, but wrights, the most distinguished of sympathetic, analysis. Her Negro is whom is Paul Green, has presented and still the primitive, living close to the published folk plays of a high quality, soil. She has watched him at his tasks, and these have not hesitated to touch and about his home, and what she has upon the evils of tenant farming and seen she has recorded, with neither a religious fanaticism,
conscious nor unconscious superiority Those who attended the little theatre but with a strict economy of means, tournament in New York last spring and an effect of stark veracity. will not soon forget the dynamic play, It may be said that both of these "Judge Lynch", carried on by Oliver books give only the rural Negro, and Hinsdale, director of the Dallas The- that the authentic word has yet to be atre, to capture the national trophy for spoken for the Negro of education who the year. Written by J. W. Rogers, is striving to adjust himself to the civJr., of Dallas, and produced in the ilization about him. Unfortunately, heart of the south, this one act play
this is so. “The Fire in the Flint", by struck with the full power of its emo- Walter White, a book by a Negro, tional and artistic force at the root of doubtless the advance guard of a long the lynching evil. Out of an overlong procession of novels of protest by memand rather appalling silence, it spoke bers of the race, fails to convince, just clearly for a vast and enlightened num- as the comic fiction Negro type failed ber throughout the south. And has to convince, and from much the same Mr. Rogers been hanged in chains at cause. Here we have an author who Galveston Bar? On the contrary, he has sees the grave and not the gay, and with good reason; but the material has been clined to be metaphysical. Christosubjected to such excessive exaggera- pher Morley has liked it for what he tion that the illusion of truth cannot described as its "pretty and intricate survive. The book appeals only by savagery". reason of its sensational content. It Among critics, and writers of special is the cry of the propagandist rather articles for the magazines, the names of than the voice of art. This is a pity. Gerald W. Johnson, Frances Newman, It is high time that the Negro produced and Howard W. Odum stand out for his own literature showing lights and their courageous, and not invariably shadows in their true value.
popular, utterances upon matters vital Turning from fiction to poetry, I to the south. will cite but a single case. Not be- And so, I believe that we are due for cause it stands alone as an example of a new phase of southern letters. The excellence, but because in “Chills and skies may not be as blue, nor the women Fever", by John Crowe Ransom, pub- as universally beautiful, as when yeslished last autumn, I find this new note terday was at its high noon. Its good most evident. In fact, I know of noth- taste may be questioned when the ing quite like it in American poetry. standard of the Victorian drawing room It is highly intellectual, and possessed is applied, but it will at least have the of an almost diabolically humorous virtues of honesty and simplicity, and quality. Unlike the drama, and fic- it will attempt to leave an authentic tion, it does not turn inward upon its record of the period that produced environment for inspiration, but is in- it.
HOW TO STAY OUT OF THE MOVIES
By James Ashmore Creelman
II: PLOTS AND COUNTER PLOTS
F you read the last article and did idea and have it cleaned up by five
the home work conscientiously, you o'clock, positive!" Whereat the diwill remember that it concerned itself rector, if worth his fifty dollars a week, with the movie story — the original, mentally measured off an idea for a unadapted, simon pure scenario. To- screen drama (probably about the sherday we shall take up, in a serious way, iff who loved the sinless dance hall girl) the adaptation: that is, the screen exactly one thousand feet long, and dramatization of the original author's presently returned not later than six work, whether play, novel, short story o'clock with the same complete in celor synopsis. Already you have been luloid form. Those were days when shown the gilded hells where prosper- such gay pastels as “Ten Pounds of ous novelists and famous scenario edi- Limburger" might be filmed imtors talk turkey à la King. Now let promptu, under God's blue skies, and us slum for a while in the continuity this nonsense about dramatic techdepartment, the slave quarters where nique, closeups, pantomimic art, and the boys who do the dirty work toil and the like had not yet contaminated a sweat and plot revolutions and some- simple, primitive people. times, when the warder nods, devour Celluloid grew cheaper and pictures some weaker brother. By way of com- grew longer. Presently the more radipelling attention at the start, let it be cal directors began to sketch out their stated that work in this field pays bet- ideas on a cuff or envelope. You can ter than any other form of professional see how intricate art becomes. That writing. But, of course, it costs more was the first scenario. Very soon it to live, in the exact sense of the word. became convenient to employ under
In the dark days, when the movies lings for these literary labors. had not yet reached the age of consent, Now nobody with any business sense they called it "the idea". About is going to let a job simplify itself. On eight o'clock of a summer morning in the contrary, the scenario form speed1908, almost any budding director ily became complicated beyond the might be seen rolling up the highways comprehension of any except trained and byways of Old Hollywood to some- minds. Salaries went up and trade body's converted car barn, lately re- mysteries developed apace. “The christened the Titanic Studios, with a idea" became “the story" – a thing used automobile and some more or less apart from the scenario. unused actors. His producer would
Soon everyone was using this word allow him one reel of precious film and "scenario". It became vulgarized a camera man, with some such casual laymen could pronounce it perfectly. remark as, “Good weather for west- The professional element took up a erns, Joe. Get yourself a real snappy new expression, “the continuity". It