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Lloyd Richards Papers

The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library is pleased to announce the acquisition of the papers of Lloyd Richards, theater pioneer and Professor Emeritus of the Yale School of Drama. Mr. Richards ranks among the most significant figures in the history of African American culture.

Lloyd Richards was born in Toronto in 1923 and subsequently relocated to Detroit. Though his family faced enormous adversity through the Depression, Richards went on to pursue post-secondary education at Wayne State University. Upon return from his tour of duty in World War II, he was active in local theater; determined to pursue his theatrical ambitions, he moved to New York City in 1947. There he became one of the principal creative agents behind the theatrical event that forever transformed the role of African Americans in the theater, both on and off stage.

In 1958 Richards was asked by friend and colleague Sidney Poitier to direct the Broadway staging of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, a production that waged a theatrical revolution on several fronts. It marked the first Broadway production of a play by an African American woman, the first Broadway production directed by an African American, and the first verisimilar portrayal on Broadway of a contemporary African American family. It launched the careers of Poitier, Ruby Dee, and Diana Sands at a time when roles available to African American actors had traditionally been restricted to those of servants or comedians. The production stands as a momentous event in the history of the American stage.

Since A Raisin in the Sun, Mr. Richards's career has been devoted to pedagogy and the fostering of new and undiscovered dramaturgical talent. He taught at New York University's School of the Arts and Hunter College, and from 1979 to 1991 he served as Dean of the Yale School of Drama and artistic director of the Yale Repertory Theater. It was at the Yale Repertory Theater that the collaboration between Richards and now celebrated African American playwright and activist August Wilson began, a collaboration that resulted in Pulitzer Prize and New York Theater Critics Circle Award-winning productions.

The Lloyd Richards papers now joining the Yale Collection of American Literature contain scripts, audio and video recordings of plays, photographs, programs, reviews, and correspondence pertaining to plays Richards directed, such as August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and Two Trains Running, Athol Fugard's Master Harris and the Boys, the television production of Paul Robeson with James Earl Jones, and countless other plays. Photographs and other materials document the National Playwrights Conference held annually at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Connecticut, from its foundation by Richards in 1968. There are also posters of the many productions with which Richards has been associated at Yale, on Broadway, and in theaters around the world.

The materials contained in this collection will prove an essential resource to scholars pursuing research in a variety of disciplines, including studies in American theater and African American cultural history. The Beinecke Library is delighted to house the archive of this inspirational cultural pioneer and illustrious member of the Yale community. (PW)
A preliminary list of the papers is available online: Lloyd Richards Papers Preliminary List

Image: Playwright August Wilson and director Lloyd Richards (in foreground) for Wilson's "The Piano Lesson" which premiered at the Yale Repertory Theatre in 1987. Copyright, the Yale Repertory Theatre.
 

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