By Bailey Fernandez, Graduate Writer
Rachel Warner, a PhD candidate in the Department of English & Comparative Literature, has won the inaugural Paul Green Prize from the North Carolina Literary Review for her essay “Zora Neale Hurston in North Carolina: Drama, Education, and Contemporary Activism.” The essay, forthcoming in the journal’s 2020 issue, excavates the time that Hurston, author of Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), spent in North Carolina. During that time, she founded a drama department at the North Carolina College for Negroes (now North Carolina Central University) and took classes with playwright Paul Green.
In her work, Warner collaborated with the special collections staff at the Wilson Library. There, she discovered Green’s audio recordings recounting Hurston’s time as a member of his playwrighting group. Warner discusses how Green “relates Hurston’s signature flamboyance and refusal to be intimidated by the white student body and details his interest in learning more about Hurston’s particular point of view as a black playwright.”
As Warner relates, “the archival material documents not only Hurston and Green’s shared passion for the folk theater but also how they worked together to promote a sense of the richness of Black history, culture, and traditions at a time [and place] featuring profound efforts at dehumanizing Southern African Americans and denying their place in the Southern artistic tradition.”