September 18, 1989: Playwright Maryat Lee Dies in Lewisburg

Sep 18, 2018

Credit WV Regional and History Collection

Playwright Maryat Lee died in Lewisburg on September 18, 1989, at age 66. She was born in Covington, Kentucky, in 1923, and graduated from Wellesley College with a degree in religious studies before studying at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary.

In 1951, she wrote and produced the street play Dope! based on her research into the religious origins of theater. Named among the best plays of the year, Dope! played in a vacant lot in East Harlem to crowds of 2,000. Later, the social and cultural disruptions of the 1960s spawned street theater in New York, and Lee became one of its leaders, founding SALT—the Soul and Latin Theater.

In 1970, seeking her Appalachian roots, Lee moved to Summers County near Hinton, where she established Eco Theater, pulling in local people as actors. She based much of her drama on oral histories she gathered. Her plays included Four Men and a Monster, John Henry, and The Hinton Play. In 1984, Maryat Lee moved to Lewisburg and worked to expand Eco Theater into a national organization. She died of a heart attack five years later.