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Arnold Wesker:

A Preliminary Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Wesker, Arnold, 1932-2016.
Title: Arnold Wesker Papers 1925-2000
Dates: 1925-2000
Extent: 286 boxes, 10 oversize boxes, oversize flat files (134 linear feet)
Abstract: This comprehensive collection of works and papers of British playwright Arnold Wesker comprises a lifetime of creative endeavor, and documents his involvement in many of the 20th century's important political, social and artistic movements.
Access: Open for research

Acquisition: Purchase, 2000 (R14620)
Processed by: Liz Murray, 2001

Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin

This comprehensive collection of works and papers of British playwright Arnold Wesker comprises a lifetime of creative endeavor, and documents his involvement in many of the 20th century's important political, social and artistic movements. As such, the collection contains not only the prolific output of a single individual over the last 40 years, but also is framed within the larger historical context of international events. Wesker, considered one of the key figures in 20th century drama, is the author of 50 plays, mainly for the stage but also for radio, television, and screen, as well as collections of short stories, non-fiction, and an autobiography.
The collection is arranged in six series: Series I. Works and Related Material; Series II. Career Related; Series III. Center 42 and Roundhouse; Series IV. Correspondence, 1925-1999; Series V. Personal; and Series VI. Works of Others. In the process of boxing his papers for shipment to the Ransom Center, Wesker compiled a list of the contents, which is available for consultation. It provides a more detailed description of the collection, complete with anecdotes and footnotes, and forms the basis for folder descriptions throughout. However, the materials are not listed in the same order they appear in this finding aid. Box names have been cross-referenced on the folders.
Series I. Works and Related Material (113 boxes). This series contains produced and unproduced works in Subseries A. Works by Title, 1949-1998, including plays for stage, radio, television and screen, opera, ballet, musicals, short stories, and non-fiction. Generally, the works follow the creative process from preliminary notes and drafts through to production and performance. There are a number of roneoed (mimeographed) drafts of the plays. Correspondence is included with the works, but related correspondence may also be found in Series IV. The comprehensive nature of this collection is remarkable, both in terms of content and description. Wesker provides the initial rough handwritten drafts for the majority of his works, as well as subsequent typed drafts, all precisely dated. For example, playscript drafts fold one into the next, many altered in rehearsal, so that the researcher has a complete record of the progression of the work over time.
The plays, many directed by Wesker, include Annie Wobbler, Caritas, Chips with Everything, Circles of Perception, The Four Seasons, The Friends, The Journalists, The Kitchen, Letter to a Daughter, Love Letters on Blue Paper, The Old Ones, Shylock ( "The Merchant"), Their Very Own and Golden City, The Wedding Feast, The Wesker Trilogy ( "Chicken Soup with Barley,""Roots," and "I'm Talking about Jerusalem"), and When God Wanted a Son. Also present are plays adapted from the works of others, such as Doris Lessing and Arthur Koestler. In addition to scripts and correspondence, associated material such as first night cards, show reports, set designs, rehearsal notes, production photographs, programs, and reviews are included for many of the plays. Subseries B. Collected Works contains collected editions of plays published in the Penguin Plays series, 1976-1994. Publicity scrapbooks and clippings of articles and play reviews are found in Subseries C, arranged by date from 1960-1966.
Wesker's non-fiction includes his autobiography As Much as I Dare, The Birth of Shylock and the Death of Zero Mostel, Journey into Journalism, and lectures and essays in Words as Definitions of Experience,Distinctions, and Fears of Fragmentation. His collections of short stories include Love Letters on Blue Paper, Said the Old Man to the Young Man, and Six Sundays in January, as well as Fatlips, a story for children, and The King's Daughters, erotic stories for adults. Wesker provided the text for two works on John Allin's paintings, Say Goodbye,You May Never See Them Again and Stepney Streets. Research material, holograph and typescript drafts, proofs and galleys, and reviews accompany these works.
Because of the large number of posters received with the collection for Wesker's plays, readings, lectures, and Centre 42/Roundhouse, a database was generated listing the title, place of production/presentation, and dates of performance. This listing is found at the end of the inventory as an addendum. The posters include a billboard size serigraph of Che Guevara, bearing the now-classic phrase "Hasta la Victoria Siempre," that Wesker acquired while in Cuba in 1968 directing "The Four Seasons."
Series II. Career Related (18 boxes) reflects Wesker's lifelong involvement in a wide range of arts-related events, organizations, and teaching at the University level, as well as writings including early manuscripts, poetry, and his prolific "journalism." This Series is divided into Subseries A. Events, Subseries B. Organizations, Subseries C. University Teaching, and Subseries D. Early Writings and Journalism.
Subseries A. Events includes addresses, lectures, readings, and speeches; conferences, seminars, and workshops; programs and invitations; and tours and festivals for a forty year period, 1960-2000. Wesker lectured in both academic and professional settings worldwide, at such events as the Oxford University Drama Festival in 1960, the annual conference of writers in Lahti, Finland, in 1971, P.E.N.'s Writer's Day in 1979, and the 1987 "Wesker on Wesker" conference in Macerata, Italy, as well as numerous readings and presentations at banquets and award ceremonies.
Notable conferences, seminars, and workshops include the 1964 and 1968 Cultural Congress of Havana, 1980 Playwrights' Workshop in Montreal, 1982 Rockefeller Foundation conference in Bellagio, Italy, 1992 Cambridge Seminar in Portugal, the 1997 International Congress of the Greek Playwrights' Society, and the 1999 Edward Albee Theatre Conference in Valdez, Alaska, at which Albee presented Wesker with the "Last Frontier Lifetime Achievement Award For Distinguished Service in the Theatre." Additional programs and invitations to Wesker-related events are also found in this subseries. Literary tours and festivals include "Wesker '68" in Japan, 1970 Arts Council Writers' Tour, cultural tours in China and Finland, and the Intercity Festival in Florence in 1996.
Some of Wesker's organizational affiliations in Subseries B. Organizations include the Committee of 100 formed in opposition to nuclear weapons in the late 1950s, the Writers' Guild, The George Orwell Trust, and the British Israel Arts Foundation. Additional involvement in numerous organizations, foundations, and social causes is reflected in the correspondence in Series IV. While sought after by colleges and universities worldwide for readings and participation in literary events of all kinds, Wesker also taught short courses at the University of Colorado at Boulder (1974) and Denison University in Ohio (1995). Materials documenting this classroom experience are found in Subseries C. University Teaching.
Wesker is the author of numerous letters to the editor, reviews, articles, and essays found in Subseries D. Early Writings and Journalism. He is frequently published in the editorial pages of newspapers such as The Guardian,The Observer, and The Times (London), on topics ranging from the 1973 military coup in Chile to the Hebron Massacre in 1994. His articles and essays on literary and current events appear in international magazines and journals. There is an especially long run of articles and associated material on Salmon Rushdie and the issue of censorship. Wesker also contributed to other works, such as "Debts to the Court" for Richard Findlater's book celebrating 25 years of the Royal Court. The earliest examples of his writing in the collection are found in school exercise books and poems from the 1940s, followed by manuscripts and stories from the 1950s.
Series III. Center 42 and Roundhouse (30 boxes): On April 28, 1960, an article in the Yorkshire Evening Post declared that "Arnold Wesker, one of Britain's youngest and most promising playwrights, has been appealing for a new approach to the theatre from trade union branches and political groups. Mr. Wesker wants these and similar organisations to become the theatrical sponsors of the 1960s, backing with their resources and potential audiences adventurous productions of all kinds." Subsequently, the Trade Union Congress of 1960 passed Resolution 42 calling for greater participation by the trade union movement in the arts. A year later "Centre 42" came into being, followed by the transformation of a vintage railway engine shed into an arts center called the Roundhouse. Ten years later, with much of his original vision redirected, Wesker resigned from Centre 42. The intervening years of festivals and exhibitions, fundraising events, hirings and firings, cooperation and acrimony, are documented in correspondence and business files in Subseries A, and printed literature in Subseries B. Additional Centre 42 correspondence and Roundhouse files are located at the Library of the North London Polytechnic.
Series IV. Correspondence, 1925-1999 (94 boxes): Wesker's extensive personal and professional correspondence is found in this series, in addition to the correspondence in the Works and Center 42/Roundhouse Series. Friends, associates, actors, agents (especially Theatrework), colleagues, organizations, and publishers form the bulk of the correspondents from the 1960s-1990s, as well as subject-related correspondence such as the '67 War and journalism. Also present are family letters, beginning in 1925 with Leah Wesker's letters to her brother Perly Perlmutter. A large number of greeting cards, invitations, and requests of all kinds are included.
Series V. Personal (23 boxes) contains articles, essays, interviews, reviews, and theses about Wesker; auction catalogs listing his works, awards, biographical information, appointment diaries, family papers, financial papers (especially accounts and royalty payments), photographs from the 1950s-1990s, and trips made to Cuba, Israel, and Italy.
Series VI. Works of Others (2 boxes): The collection contains Nedzad Dozo's "Bosnian Soldier," a monologue, and drafts and correspondence relating to "Dusty Wesker's Cookery Book" which Wesker helped his wife organize and write. In addition to being a traditional book of recipes, it also describes the numerous guests entertained at the Weskers' home. Wesker also retained issues of numerous literary and popular magazines and newspapers for their historical interest. Titles include Film, Fireweed,Ink,Black Dwarf,Gramma,Red Mole, and Sunday Times and Observer color supplements.
Wesker's collection includes numerous books, many signed/inscribed first editions, and Time Out magazine from 1968-1986, as well as audio cassettes and video tapes of performances of plays, interviews, reviews, talks, and readings. Also included are audio recordings of Wesker's family members. Personal effects include mementos from the Cultural Congress of Havana in 1968, the 1971 Lahti Writers Conference, and a wooden puzzle commemorating a June 1980 production of The Wedding Feast. The books and serials have been transferred to the Ransom Center Library, the mementos transferred to Personal Effects, the audio recordings are held in the Center's Sound Recordings Collection, and the video tapes are located in the Photograph and Film Department.
The collection is in good physical condition, except for some musty files in the Centre 42 material that also incurred rust damage from staples and paper clips. Diaries from 1986-1999, holograph notebooks recording dreams, and personal correspondence were restricted until Wesker's death, and are now open for research.