STEPHEN SMITH: Green, Boyd Became Good Friends
North Carolina playwright Paul Green was a force in the state's literary, political, and educational life from the 1920s until his death in 1981.
In 1927, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his play "In Abraham's Bosom" and from the 1930s on, he devoted much of his energy to establishing outdoor dramas. His "Lost Colony" is still in production and is viewed by thousands each year. A classmate of Thomas Wolfe, Green served as a pallbearer at Wolfe's funeral, and went on to become an icon in the English Department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Green's connection to Southern Pines was long-standing. Scholars and biographers often identify Green as James Boyd's "best friend," and the Greens were frequent visitors to the Boyds' home, which is now the Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities.
Boyd's letters are cataloged in UNC's Southern Historical Collection, the Firestone Library at Princeton University where a wing of the library is named for Boyd, and the Newberry Library in Chicago. And a small part of that correspondence -- the Paul Green side -- is available in Laurence Avery's excellent "A Southern Life: Letters of Paul Green" (University of North Carolina Press, 707 pages, $75). The sum of the letters provides a fascinating look into the literary life of Moore County's most enduring writer.
The Green-Boyd friendship commenced in the late 1920s, but the first mention of Boyd in Green's letters can be found in a missive addressed to writer Laurence Stallings and dated April 22, 1932.
"Jim (Boyd) has ruined my eyes with his letters. He's such an artist that he makes me want to read what he says, and he's such a master of foxhounds that he makes the trail to find it out eye-blinding. I did decipher the news that you bore my ungallant remarks about the red tiles of Hollywood with manly fortitude. Now Jim's wrong, and it hurts my heart to say that Jim is wrong in anything."
Boyd's handwriting is described in Avery's footnotes as follows: "James Boyd, novelist living in Southern Pines, North Carolina, in whose handwriting each letter of the alphabet resembles a tiny dash." Both Green and Avery are correct in their criticism of Boyd's penmanship. Apparently, Katharine Boyd had occasional difficulty deciphering her husband's handwriting.
On Oct. 17, 1936, Green wrote to his wife Elizabeth Green: "Jim Boyd, Erm and several of us went to Carolina-N.Y.U. ball game today. Jim has just had his eye operated on, 'cut open like a watermelon,' etc. -- 'didn't hurt a bit.' Brave boy. Jim and Kate have had a hard session with Helen and Laurence. Helen left last night for Reno in tears -- divorce. Kate says Laurence is off his head, etc., not crazy but wild as a hant."
The passage is a reference to the Stallings' divorce, and Katharine Boyd's attempts to play peacemaker.
On Oct. 7, 1937, Green wrote to Boyd concerning an article in the American Mercury about a small-town policeman who empathized with a dog's plight but not with a black man's. Green continues, "Wilbur Daniel Steele and Sherwood Anderson and wife are to be with us and the owls next week. Can't you come up for an evening or two of spreading the bull and the rest of him?"
Green and Boyd had met writer Sherwood Anderson during the week of Oct. 11 at a meeting of the North Carolina Library Association held in Chapel Hill. The friendship between the Boyds and the Andersons would deepen with time, and the Andersons would become frequent visitors at the Boyds' home in Southern Pines.
In the coming year, the Sam Ragan Lecture Series will present a writers' theater production based on the Boyd correspondence. Letters from Anderson, Wolfe, Fitzgerald, Green and other writers of the 20th century will be included in the production at the Weymouth Center.
Contact Stephen Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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