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Fellows Find: Audrey Wood collection reveals relationships between the literary agent and the playwrights she represented

By Kelsey McKinney

Snapshot photo of Audrey Wood, Tennessee Williams, and Carson McCullers. Undated. Unidentified photographer.
Snapshot photo of Audrey Wood, Tennessee Williams, and Carson McCullers. Undated. Unidentified photographer.

Milly S. Barranger, Dean at the College of Fellows of the American Theatre and Distinguished Professor Emerita at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, visited the Ransom Center in July on a fellowship funded by the Fleur Cowles Endowment to study the Audrey Wood papers for her upcoming book Audrey Wood and the Playwrights: Shaping American Theatre and Film in the Last Century. The book will be her fourth on pioneering women in the American theater in the mid-twentieth century. Below, she shares her experience working in the collections.

The Hazel H. Ransom Reading Room at the Ransom Center is a treasure of interstitial resources on American theater and its creators from Eugene O’Neill to Lillian Hellman and Terrence McNally. The Center’s award of a travel fellowship afforded me the opportunity to return for a second time to the Audrey Wood papers to do a complete review of the more than 60 boxes containing materials on the literary agent’s representation of playwrights and their plays for the commercial theater. The considerable files present the life and career of Audrey Wood (1905–1985), along with her clients and their playbills, scripts, musical scores, photographs, and correspondence, and the business records of the Liebling-Wood Agency. The correspondence between the literary agent and her clients reveals the nature of their relationships during Broadway failures and successes. As Audrey Wood said, the commercial theater is a “tough business,” and these files reveal just how difficult it was for clients and their agents in the mid-twentieth century.

Based on my experiences in other research libraries, I have concluded that the ability to work with a collection that consolidates materials on the subject results in a highly productive research experience. I have written on subjects that required travel from one collection to another to review the career and interactions with associates and co-workers. The Center’s large collection of materials affords the researcher the luxury of remaining in one place to scrutinize, in this instance, the literary agent’s life story.

In addition, the ambience and orderliness of the Reading Room favors uninterrupted scholarship in the knowledge that across the table from you other research fellows are hard at work on Irish dramatic literature or Tom Stoppard. In other words, although undisturbed, you share the company of exceptional scholars.

The splendor of the Reading Room is that the researcher’s needs have been carefully anticipated in the organization of the collections, the retrieval system for files, the attentive staff, and the ambience of the room itself. It is my hope that my next research project mandates a return to the Ransom Center.

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