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Lanford Wilson Collection.


Wilson, Lanford, 1937-2011.


Lanford Wilson Collection.


Holdings: 53 linear feet of manuscripts and approximately 100 books.


Biographical Sketch

Lanford Wilson (1937-2011) was born in Lebanon Missouri to Ralph and Violetta Tate Wilson. In 1942 his parents divorced, and he and his mother moved to Springfield, Missouri, where she took a job in a garment factory. When Wilson was 11 years old his mother married Walt E. Lenhard, a farmer from Ozark, Missouri. Wilson lived in Ozark until he graduated from Ozark High School in 1955. He enrolled for summer and fall sessions at Southwest Missouri State College in Springfield. The following year Lanford moved to San Diego, California, to live with his biological father. While in San Diego, Wilson worked in an airplane manufacturing plant and enrolled in San Diego State College where he took courses in art and art history.

In 1957 Wilson moved to Chicago and worked as a graphic artist for an advertising agency. It was in Chicago that Wilson realized that the short stories he had been writing for years actually worked better in play form. While in Chicago, Wilson enrolled in an extension class in playwriting at the University of Chicago. In part due to a lack of live theatre opportunities in Chicago, Wilson relocated to New York City in July 1962.

While in New York working odd jobs to support himself, Wilson became familiar with Caffe Cino, a pioneering Off-Off Broadway theater run by Joe Cino that produced plays by many young, would-be playwrights. In August of 1963, his short one-act play, So Long at the Fair, was produced at the Caffe Cino. He soon became one of the regular playwrights working out of the Caffe Cino, writing many one act plays for performance at the playhouse. Caffe Cino premiered The Madness of Lady Bright in 1964 and was one of the playhouse's significant successes. He also produced longer works for another playhouse, La MaMa Experimental Theater Club, in 1965. It was while having his play, Home Free!, performed at Caffe Cino that Wilson met a young director named Marshall Mason. Mason and Wilson formed a professional collaboration and friendship; Mason would go on to direct a large number of Wilson's plays throughout his career.

In 1968 Wilson had his play, The Gingham Dog, premiere in a regional theatre, the Washington Theater Club, and the following year the play opened on Broadway. In 1969 the Circle Repertory Company was organized by Wilson and three of his theater associates: Tanya Berezin, Marshall Mason and Rob Thirkield. For almost two decades the Circle Repertory Company was the place where many of Wilson's most critically acclaimed and successful plays were premiered, including Talley's FollySerenading LouieThe Mound BuildersFifth of July, and The Hot l BaltimoreThe Hot l Baltimore was the Circle Repertory Company's first significant success, running for over a thousand performances in 1973 and winning the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best American Play and an Obie Award.

A number of Wilson's plays moved from either the Circle Repertory Company or regional theater companies to Broadway. His plays were nominated for Tony awards three times, and in 1980 he received the Pulitzer Prize for Talley's Folly. Wilson was elected to the Theatre Hall of Fame in 2001 and to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2004.

In addition to writing plays, Wilson wrote librettos for several twentieth century operas. He wrote the libretto for Lee Hoiby's opera, Summer and Smoke, which was adapted from Tennessee Williams' play of the same name in 1971. Wilson was the librettist for the adaptation at the request of Williams. Wilson also adapted his play This is the Rill Speaking into a one-act chamber opera. In 1984, Wilson adapted Anton Chekhov's Play Three Sisters for the Hartford Stage Company. The adaptation centered on making the existing translations more theatrically and linguistically modern.

Wilson maintained an apartment in Manhattan for many years where he resided when there was a play in production; however, from 1971 until his death in 2011, Wilson lived mostly in an 1845 farmhouse on Long Island. In his Sag Harbor home, he devoted much time to developing his garden and collecting art.

Scope and Contents

This collection contains personal and professional papers created and received by Lanford Wilson throughout his life and career as a playwright. The vast majority of the collection consists of manuscripts in various forms but especially in the form of plays. In addition to his works there is also a sizeable series of plays sent to Wilson by his colleagues and friends. There are also files of reviews and promotional clippings for productions of his plays. Correspondence received by and created by Wilson dating from the early 1960s until his death in 2011 also forms part of this collection, as do photographs of both a professional and family nature. In addition, the collection contains early family materials from his childhood and records of his personal interests such as gardening and art collecting.

Electronic documents that were recoverable from Wilson's 3.5 inch diskettes were printed on acid-free and buffered paper and integrated into other records series and sub-series. The diskettes have been retained for research purposes.

Table Of Contents

Series Arrangement

Finding aids: Lanford Wilson Collection finding aids (pdf)

This Collection is divided into eight series.

Series One – Correspondence contains letters, cards and notes that are arranged alphabetically by correspondents' names. The correspondence covers the years from 1959 to 2011. The Series primarily contains incoming correspondence (i.e., addressed to Wilson), but it also includes a small selection of outgoing correspondence. There are also pieces of correspondence that are to and from third parties, copies of which made their way into Wilson's possession. Depending on legibility, unidentified correspondents' letters are filed in alphabetical files by author's last name or first name.
NOTE: Some items in the Correspondence Series are restricted.

Series Two – Printed and Duplicated contains a wide variety of printed material relating to Wilson's professional activities in the theatre.
Series Two is further divided into two Sub-Series:

  • Sub-Series One – Articles, Reviews, Programs, and Promotional Materials contains newspaper and magazine clippings as well as associated promotional materials related to many of Wilson's plays. The files in this sub-series are arranged alphabetically by play name and categories of production (Broadway, regional, local). The sub-series also includes a number of general articles and clippings about Wilson, his life and career as a playwright.
  • Sub-Series Two – Posters contains various over-sized publicity material for productions of Wilson's plays. In addition, this Sub-Series contains a few oversized art prints, photographs, and other items pertaining to Wilson, including his gardening. The material is grouped mainly by size and format.

Series Three – Works and Manuscripts contains the writings of Wilson from his days as a student to his later plays.
Series Three is further divided into three Sub-Series:

  • Sub-Series One – Prose and Poetry represents some of Wilson's earliest literary work and it is arranged alphabetically by genre and title of work. Included in this Sub-Series is a class essay from Southwest Missouri State College.
  • Sub-Series Two – Plays consists of play and screenplay drafts (a play in its most rudimentary forms which is closest to its creative inception), scripts (a more established form of the play), performance scripts (a finalized version, often printed or duplicated, of the script used when the play is being brought to the stage; included in this distinction are rehearsal scripts, agent scripts, reading scripts, etc.), publication proofs, and published scripts. This Sub-Series includes multiple copies and multiple versions of many of Wilson's plays, and many of these documents manifest Wilson's changes and annotations throughout. After around 1997 much of Wilson's editorial work was done on computer and printouts of these electronic files are integrated into the type written documents. These works are arranged alphabetically by the name of the play. The Sub-Series also includes librettos.
  • Sub-Series Three – Notebooks contains discrete notebooks serving a variety of purposes for Wilson. Sometimes the notebooks contain early drafts of plays or parts of plays or notes about a play or other work. Few titles are assigned by Wilson to the notebooks and not many are dated. Some of the notebooks contain not only writings but also drawings. One notebook contains miscellaneous notes in French and drawings, its origin is unknown.

Series Four – Other People's Works consists of copies of scripts and other writings that were sent to and retained by Wilson dating from the 1960s to 2009. The works are arranged alphabetically by the last name of the author of the work. Some authors sent Wilson several titles and some have been hand-annotated by the authors. Many of the manuscripts are not dated and some are unattributed.

Series Five – Audio-Visual contains a variety of formats, including video tape (VHS), audio cassette tape, 1/4" audio tape, and different optical media. The various formats contain readings, performances, and discussions of Wilson's plays, interviews for articles written by Wilson, and images of Wilson's furniture and his art collection.

Series Six – Awards and Other Three-dimensional Objects consists of various awards and honors received by Wilson during his career as a playwright. In addition to certificates, plaques, medallions and framed photographs, the series also includes honorary degree hoods from several institutions of higher education.

Series Seven – Miscellaneous Materials contains a large group of materials that have purposes not directed to the writing of plays and scripts.
Series Seven is further divided into eight Sub-Series:

  • Sub-Series One – Miscellaneous Subject Files consists of items maintained by Wilson and includes a wide variety of documents and objects. It includes files about his membership in organizations and guilds as well as contracts and other legal materials. Among the variety and submission letters and rejection letters. It also includes his address lists and Rolodex card system; several manuscript graduate theses and a book written by Gene A. Barnett about Wilson; one small container of objects produced to promote or celebrate various play productions; and computer diskettes. Arrangement is primarily but not exclusively alphabetical.
  • Sub-Series Two – T-Shirts consists of clothing from various theatre groups, and locations where theatre productions, workshops and teaching opportunities occurred. There are multiple garments for the New York State Summer School for the Arts and a shirt signed by the cast members of a production of The Hot l Baltimore performed at Williams College. There is not a specific order to the rolled t-shirts.
  • Sub-Series Three – Drawings contains artwork from various artists including Wilson. Included are drawings given to Wilson by relatives and friends, it also includes a self-portrait by Wilson. Also contained is a drawing of a stage set for Balm in Gilead at Arizona State University, ink and water-color drawings by Allan Havis and a drawing of Wilson's half-brother, John Wilson.
  • Sub-Series Four – Family Memorabilia consists of a variety of items kept by Wilson's mother, Violetta Tate Lenhard. Some of the materials reflect the greater and extended family of Wilson such as the many identified and unidentified photographs. Much of the material, such as two of his children's books and his baby book, relates to Wilson's younger years before leaving Missouri for California. This Sub-Series also includes diplomas and certificates of his mother, Wilson's birth certificate, awards, grade reports and diplomas. The group also includes what may be the first poem written by Wilson entitled "Oakwood Gothic."
  • Sub-Series Five – Calendars consists of both desk and wall calendars from most years between 1978 and 2011. Many of these are annotated by Wilson.
  • Sub-Series Six – House and Garden and Art Collection consists of both written documents and photographic material relating to his favorite non-literary pursuits: gardening and collecting art. The Sub-Series contains drawings of the garden at Wilson's Sag Harbor home and a multitude of photographs made in the garden. There are a large number of photographs and slides of art works that Wilson considered buying, he bought and then sold, or were part of his permanent collection. Wilson was especially interested in "outsider" art or works of art created by self-taught artists.
  • Sub-Series Seven – The Hot l Baltimore Scrapbook contains a scrapbook that was assembled to document the Mexican production of the play. The scrapbook contains clippings about the play and the production and many photographs of the production. The scrapbook was disassembled due to its physical condition, and the pages were placed in folders and arranged by the original page numbering of the scrapbook.
  • Sub-Series Eight – St. Louis Post Dispatch contains a newspaper of April 13, 1937 – the date of Wilson's birthday – in a large format portfolio.

Series Eight – Photographs includes a variety of photographs ranging from contact sheets and photographs of plays in production to photographs of Wilson by himself and in the presence of his associates and friends. There are photos of both identified and unidentified individuals and groups. The Sub-Series also contains a small photo album that documents Wilson's naming as Playwright-in Residence of the Signature Theatre for the 2002-2003 season as well as other albums of photos about teaching at Arizona State University. In addition, the Sub-Series includes a multitude of identified and unidentified family snapshots and pictures.
Series Eight is further divided into five Sub-Series:

  • Sub-Series One – Photographs of Lanford Wilson contains images of Wilson, some of which were done as professional portraits by commercial photographers while some are informal photographs.
  • Sub-Series Two – Photographs of Lanford Wilson with Others contains photographs that are less formal than those portraits found in Sub-Series One of Series Eight. Also included are a number of photos of Wilson within groups of which some individuals have been identified.
  • Sub-Series Three – Photographs of Others contains photographs of individuals that were involved in Wilson's life and profession. In addition to many photographs of individuals, there are photographs of groups in which some individuals are identified and others are not.
  • Sub-Series Four – Photographs of Play Productions contains photographs from plays in production, including cast shots and various other photographs related to play performances. Photographic prints in this Sub-Series include standard-size prints, oversized prints, and contact sheets.
  • Sub-Series Five – Miscellaneous Photographs contains photographs of Wilson in different contexts, including at a presentation at Brandeis University and at the Last Frontier Theatre Conference. The Sub-Series also contains an album with photographs of the production of Rain Dance at Arizona State University, the Arizona State University theatre workshop, and unidentified individuals camping. In addition, the Sub-Series contains various unidentified photos of landscapes and scenery and numerous, largely unidentified, photographs of Wilson's family.

Addendum 1
Two scrapbooks assembled by Violetta Tate Lenhard, Lanford Wilson’s mother, relating to his life and career, along with clippings and childhood materials given by Wilson’s friends from Ozark.

The books in the collection have been cataloged and are now available through Lanford Wilson Collection (University of Missouri Libraries in the University's online catalog.

Is Referenced By

Lanford Wilson Collection (digital exhibition).

Wilson, Lanford. 2017. Lanford Wilson : Early Stories, Sketches, and Poems. Edited by David Allison Crespy and Marshall W. Mason. University of Missouri Press.


Wilson, Lanford, 1937-2011.


Bequeathed to the University of Missouri by Lanford Wilson, 2011.


Copyright of all correspondence resides with the originator. Correspondence in the collection not written by Wilson may be consulted but not photocopied or published without the permission from the copyright holder. All rights of copyright, contractual rights or other intellectual property rights in the materials ("Intangible Rights") are reserved by the donor and/or his designees and licensees. The University has acquired no title or interest in or to the Intangible Rights.

Access Rights

Materials do not circulate but are available to users in the Special Collections Reading Room during service hours or by appointment.

Rights Holder

Various rights holders are represented in this collection. Contact Special Collections for more information.

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