Kate Porter Lewis

Kate Porter Lewis (1893-1993) was a member of the twentieth-century folk drama movement led by Frederick Koch and Paul Green (Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of the well-known outdoor drama The Lost Colony) at the University of North Carolina. She wrote five plays that were performed in 1940. She was especially effective in describing the real life of the plain folk of southern Alabama.

Born Kate Porter, daughter of Oscar Richardson and Abbie Flowers Porter, in Greenville, Butler County, in 1893, Porter was the descendant of pioneer settlers before Alabama became a state. She grew up near the timber land owned by her grandfather, who ran a sawmill. Lewis attended the University of Alabama briefly in 1914, but then married John C. Lewis, with whom she had four children. She earned an A.B. degree from Birmingham-Southern College in 1936 and took graduate courses at the University of Alabama during the summers of 1935 to 1938.

In 1938, she entered the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill (UNC) and began work on a master’s degree in dramatic art, which she earned in 1939. While at UNC, she began composing one-act plays. In 1940, four of her plays were performed to acclaim at the Carolina Playmakers Theatre, and in 1943, five of her plays were collected for publication by the University of North Carolina Press edited by Frederick H. Koch. Koch was the founder of the Carolina Playmakers and was instrumental in establishing the legitimacy of American folk drama.

Three comedies in this collection —The Scarlet Petticoat, Three Links o’ Chain, and Watermelon Time— present the life of rural blacks. Party Dress, on the other hand, is the first in a pair of plays about a poor rural white woman, Martie, who aspires to a better life, but fails, instead marrying a local farmer. The second, The Ivory Shawl, continues the story of Martie, now the mother of three sons who follow in their father’s plodding footsteps and a gifted daughter. In this sequel, Martie enables her daughter, Martha, to escape the life she could not and attend teacher’s college.

Kate Porter Lewis died in 1993.

Additional Resources

Koch, Frederick H. “Plays of the Deep South.” Introduction to Alabama Folk Plays by Kate Porter Lewis. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1943.

Sper, Felix. From Native Roots: A Panorama of Our Regional Drama. Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Printers, 1948.

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