Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts



First Advisor

Noreen Barnes


Lynn Riggs was an early to mid-20th century Native American playwright who wrote twenty-four full length plays, his sole enduring success being Green Grow the Lilacs, the play upon which the musical Oklahoma! is based. For much of the early part of Riggs’s career, he was considered a uniquely pioneering and promising playwright, cited in competition with Eugene O’Neill as vying for the position of best playwright of their age. But while O’Neill has gone on to be considered America’s Greatest Playwright, the life and works of Lynn Riggs, save for his contribution to Rodgers and Hammerstein, have gone largely forgotten and unexamined. It is the purpose of my paper to 1) provide a biographical sketch of the man, 2) give an overview of several major themes that run through his work, and 3) provide some theory and analysis as to why the promise of this young and distinctly Native American voice was never adequately fulfilled in his lifetime. I will attempt to argue that a combination of circumstances including Riggs’s poor home life, his at times misogynistic and racist points of view, America’s inability to see Native Americans as other than caricatures and, quite simply, bad luck put much of Riggs’s writing on a fast track to failure and contemporary obscurity.


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VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

May 2014