Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Adrienne Kennedy:

An Inventory of Her Papers at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator Kennedy, Adrienne, 1931-
Title Adrienne Kennedy Papers circa 1954-1997
Dates: circa 1954-1997
Extent 12 boxes, 4 oversize folders (osf) (5.04 linear feet)
Abstract The papers document Kennedy's evolution from an aspiring writer to a successful playwright, and include manuscripts for plays, short stories, memoirs, and novels, though film and television projects are also present. The papers also contain correspondence, manuscripts and publications about Kennedy, production materials from her plays, and sound and video recordings.
Call Number: Manuscript Collection MS-00067
Language English.
Access Open for research. Researchers must create an online Research Account and agree to the Materials Use Policy before using archival materials.
Use Policies: Ransom Center collections may contain material with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in the collections without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the Ransom Center and The University of Texas at Austin assume no responsibility.
Restrictions on Use: Authorization for publication is given on behalf of the University of Texas as the owner of the collection and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder which must be obtained by the researcher. For more information please see the Ransom Center's Open Access and Use Policies.

Acquisition Purchases, 1992-1995 (92-05-009-P, 94-20-016-P, 95-07-013-P); Gifts, 1996-1998 (96-07-010-T, 98-07-001-G)
Processed by Joan Sibley, 1994; Stephen Mielke, 2018

Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin

Playwright and educator Adrienne Kennedy, the daughter of Cornell Wallace Hawkins and Etta Haugabook Hawkins, was born on September 13, 1931, in Pittsburgh, PA. Kennedy grew up in Cleveland, OH, where her parents moved four years after her birth. She received her B.A. from Ohio State University in 1952, and married Joseph C. Kennedy on May 15, 1953, with whom she had two sons, Joseph Jr. and Adam. After moving to New York, Kennedy studied creative writing at Columbia University (1954-1956), American Theatre Wing (1958), and later with Edward Albee at Circle-in-the-Square School (1962). She has also taught creative writing at Yale University, Princeton University, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of California at Davis.
Kennedy is an African-American dramatist whose early works utilize a surrealist perspective. Though she has mentioned Tennessee Williams and Federico GarcĂ­a Lorca as two of her favorite playwrights, at least one critic has noted a kinship with Jean Cocteau in certain of her works. Her richly symbolic plays deal with racial, sexual, and religious themes, and are often "disarmingly autobiographical." Kennedy calls her plays "states of mind," written while images "fiercely pound in (her) head." Frequently the characters and images that appear in her plays are drawn from the mythical and historical past, or from her own memories and dreams. The landscape of her plays has been peopled by figures as unlikely as Queen Victoria, Leonardo da Vinci, Jesus Christ, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Galileo, Beethoven, Charlie Chaplin, Bette Davis, Shelley Winters, and even rats (in A Rat's Mass, inspired by a particularly vivid dream). Powerful African and African-American figures in her work include Patrice Lumumba, Malcolm X, and sniper James Essex.
Kennedy's best known play, Funnyhouse of a Negro, was begun in 1961 while traveling in Africa, and was the first of her plays to be produced. It opened off-Broadway in 1964 with great success and won an Obie Award. During the next several years, Kennedy was the recipient of numerous fellowships and grants (Guggenheim, Rockefeller, National Endowment for the Arts, etc.), writing a number of plays, most of which were professionally produced in major theaters in the United States and Europe. Among her plays are The Owl Answers (1963), A Rat's Mass (1966), The Lennon Play: in His Own Write (1967), Lesson in a Dead Language (1968), A Beast's Story (1969), An Evening with Dead Essex (1973), A Movie Star Has to Star in Black and White (1976), She Talks to Beethoven (1989), and Ohio State Murders (1990). In 1996, she co-wrote Sleep Deprivation Chamber with her son Adam P. Kennedy, and in 2018 she premiered He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box at Theatre for a New Audience. She has also written children's plays (Black Children's Day and A Lancashire Lad, both 1980), a novella ( Deadly Triplets, 1990), and a memoir ( People Who Led to My Plays, 1987).
Published collections of her works include Adrienne Kennedy in One Act (1988), The Alexander Plays (1992), and The Adrienne Kennedy Reader (2001).

Bryant-Jackson, Paul K. and Lois More Overbeck. Intersecting Boundaries: The Theatre of Adrienne Kennedy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992.
Kennedy, Adrienne. People Who Led to My Plays. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987.
Wilkerson, Margaret B. "Adrienne Kennedy", in The Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 38: Afro-American Writers after 1955. Detroit: Gale, 1985.

The papers of Adrienne Kennedy, circa 1954-1997, document her evolution from an aspiring writer to a successful playwright. The collection has been arranged into two series, Works, circa 1954-1995 (8 boxes) and Career Papers, circa 1963-1997 (4 boxes). The dominant Works series consists of Kennedy's manuscripts for plays, short stories, memoirs, and novels, though film and television projects are also present. The Career Papers contribute to further knowledge of and understanding of Kennedy and her work through award certificates, biographical data, contracts, correspondence, manuscripts and publications about Adrienne Kennedy, production materials from her plays, publicity, reviews, royalty statements, and sound and video recordings.
All of Kennedy's plays through 1996 are represented in this collection, from her Obie Award winning Funnyhouse of a Negro (1964) to drafts of, Sleep Deprivation Chamber (1996). Additionally, manuscripts for several unproduced or incomplete plays are present: "Letters,""Starring Galileo,""Film Festival,""Manhattan Mystery Comedy," and an untitled play about George Jackson. Manuscripts dating from Kennedy's beginnings as a writer in the 1950s include the plays The "Pale Blue Flowers,""The Tiger and the Tomboy," and "The Virgin Maggie." There are also several short story and novel manuscripts from this early period, plus two short stories from the 1960s. Other writings in the collection include the memoir People Who Led to My Plays , the essays "Letter to My Students on My Sixty-First Birthday by Suzanne Alexander" and "Secret Paragraphs about My Brother", and film treatments and screenplays (one of which is about Robert Johnson), as well as television ideas and proposals. The works exist as notebooks, hand written and typed notes, outlines, proposals, and drafts of manuscripts, playscripts, a film treatment, and screenplays, as well as galleys, page proofs, and photocopies of publications.
The correspondence, 1963-1997, generally concerns Kennedy's career as a playwright, writer, and educator, though some correspondence is of a more personal nature. Significant correspondents include Edward Albee, Imamu Amiri Baraka, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ed Bullins, Joseph Chaikin, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Gerald Freedman, Nikki Giovanni, Elizabeth Hardwick, James Earl Jones, Michael Kahn, Elia Kazan, Galt MacDermot, Theodore Mann, William Marshall, Mike Nichols, Joseph Papp, Harold Pinter, Ishmael Reed, Jerome Robbins, John Selby, Victor Spinetti, Fay Weldon, Edgar White, Audrey Wood, and others.
Documentation of various productions of Ms. Kennedy's plays, 1963-1992, is also present in the form of brochures, cast lists, clippings, contact lists, drawings, flyers, musical scores, photographs, posters, programs, publicity, rehearsal schedules, reviews, scripts, sound and video recordings, tickets, etc.
Beyond the study of Adrienne Kennedy, her work, and the production of her plays, the papers provide insight into broader topics such as African-American writers, 20th century drama, surrealism, racial identity and conflict, autobiography, and cultural influences on literary works.
The bulk of the Kennedy Papers were processed at the Ransom Center in 1994. Several smaller additions were added in 2018. The additional materials are physically housed in boxes at the end of the collection, but described within the container list in intellectual order with the previously processed materials.

The Gerard Malanga Collection at the Ransom Center includes 22 letters from Kennedy to Malanga, 1962-1965, and a typescript draft of Funnyhouse of a Negro. Additional Kennedy correspondence is located in the Center's Mel Gussow Papers. Other Kennedy materials are located in the Center's Lois More Overbeck Collection of Adrienne Kennedy.
The New York Public Library also holds records relating to Kennedy's productions - especially within the collections of the New York Shakespeare Festival, Circle in the Square, and the papers of Lucille Lortel.

One audio tape of The Owl Answers was transferred to the Ransom Center Sound Recordings Collection.
One video tape of The Owl Answers and one video tape of "Adrienne Kennedy: Live at Brown University, 1991" were transferred to the Ransom Center Moving Image Collection.


Albee, Edward, 1928-2016.
Baraka, Imanu Amiri, 1934-2014.
Brooks, Gwendolyn, 1917-2000.
Bullins, Ed.
Chaikin, Joseph, 1935-2003.
Davis, Ossie.
Dee, Ruby.
Freedman, Gerald.
Giovanni, Nikki.
Hardwick, Elizabeth.
Jones, James Earl.
Kahn, Michael.
Kazan, Elia.
MacDermot, Galt.
Mann, Theodore.
Marshall, William, 1924-2003.
Nichols, Mike.
Papp, Joseph.
Pinter, Harold, 1930-2008.
Reed, Ishmael, 1938- .
Robbins, Jerome.
Selby, John.
Spinetti, Victor.
Taylor, Cecil, 1933-2018.
Weldon, Fay.
White, Edgar, 1947- .
Wood, Audrey, 1905-1985.


African American authors.
African American women--Drama.
African Americans--Race identity.
American drama--20th century.
American drama--Afro-American authors.
American drama--Women authors.
Autobiography--Afro-American authors.
Dramatists, American--20th century.
Influence (Literary, artistic, etc.).
Jackson, George, 1941-1971.
Johnson, Robert, d. 1938- .
Race relations.

Document Types

First drafts.
Galley proofs.
Sound recordings.
Video recordings.