UD Library receives the literary papers of Barrie Stavis
Photograph of Barrie Stavis by David Jaffee, 1959


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8:15 a.m., May 26, 2010----The University of Delaware Library has announced the acquisition of the literary archive of the American playwright Barrie Stavis. The papers are a gift from the Estate of Barrie Stavis.

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The Barrie Stavis papers are a significant addition to the University of Delaware Library's internationally known holdings in 20th-century literature and will be a major resource for students and literary scholars.

As a playwright, Stavis is best known for his plays depicting historic figures whose controversial or radical ideas and actions present a challenge to contemporary authority.

These plays depict the actions of men who set an ethical course from which they cannot be turned, and their determination changed the world, even though they themselves were made to suffer or even executed for their beliefs. His subjects include the renaissance scientist Galileo, abolitionist John Brown, and labor leader Joe Hill.

Stavis knew at an early age that he would pursue a career as a writer. During the 1930s he struggled with his writing, but in 1937 sailed for Europe to volunteer his service in the Spanish Civil War.

Stavis's skills as a writer were put to good use and he worked primarily as a journalist. His experiences in Spain provided the themes for several plays and stories, notably the one-act play Refuge and the full-length drama The International Brigade.

With the onset of World War II, Stavis enlisted in the U.S. Army at the age of 36 and served with the Plans and Training unit of the Signal Corps.

During his military service, Stavis began work on a play about Galileo and in December 1947 it opened in New York as Lamp at Midnight. The play achieved critical success. Lamp at Midnight dramatizes Galileo's battle with the Catholic Church and his effort to teach the world that two realms of truth, reason and faith, can coexist.

Perhaps the most notable production of Lamp at Midnight was the 1966 television adaptation for the program Hallmark Hall of Fame, which featured the legendary actor Melvyn Douglas in the role of Galileo.

In 1953 Stavis finished The Man Who Never Died, his play about the life, work, and controversial trial and execution of the legendary labor leader Joe Hill. The play opened to critical acclaim in New York in 1958 at the Jan Hus Theatre; however, The Man Who Never Died would be Stavis's last professional production on a stage in his native city.

The great director Tyrone Guthrie was one of Stavis's strongest supporters and he directed the first production of Harper's Ferry, a play about John Brown's ill-fated raid, in1967 at the famed Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis.

Sanford Robbins, founder and director of the Professional Theatre Training Program and chairperson of the Department of Theatre at the University of Delaware, said, “Barrie Stavis, a distinguished American playwright, has authored several powerful plays about men struggling in the vortex of history. His heroes include scientist Galileo, human rights fighter John Brown, and labor leader Joe Hill.

“The legendary director Sir Tyrone Guthrie chose Stavis's Harpers Ferry as the first non-classical work ever done at his Minneapolis theatre, and such famous actors as Peter O'Toole, Morris Carnovsky, Kim Hunter and Melvyn Douglas have starred in Stavis's plays. His plays have been translated into some 30 languages and been adapted for television, an oratorio and an opera. For decades, his work was in near-constant production in theatres around the world. Stavis was especially popular in Eastern Europe and South America, in countries in flux in ways strongly reminiscent of the settings of his plays.”

During the course of his career, Stavis received numerous awards for his writing. He was a Yaddo Fellow (1939) and an American Theatre Association Fellow (1982), and a member of PENN, ASCAP, the Dramatists Guild, the Authors Guild, the National Theatre Conference, the U.S. Institute for Theatre Technology, the American National Theatre and Academy (ANTA), and the International Theatre Institute/UNESCO, where he served as delegate to the ITI World Congress for some 40 years and was a founding member of its Playwrights Committee.

In 1988, the National Theatre Conference established the Barrie and Bernice Stavis Award for Emerging Playwrights, which is given annually in honor of Stavis and his wife Bernice, who had a successful professional career in her own right and was one of the first women to head an independent film-distribution company.

Stavis continued to write up to his death at the age of 100 on Feb. 2, 2007.

The Barrie Stavis literary archives document all aspects of his long and productive career. Included are numerous drafts and manuscripts of play and film scripts, manuscripts of his fiction and essays, as well as other writing.

Extensive production files are present, including correspondence, photographs, contracts, advertising, and promotional materials, from Stavis's earliest productions up to his final efforts in the 21st century.

Stavis worked on every aspect of the production of his plays and his papers include detailed renderings, drawings, and set designs, as well as original props used in various theatrical productions.

Stavis was also a meticulous researcher and his papers include his collection of the source material he acquired during his research, including scarce labor and political pamphlets, little magazines, photographs, and his original research notes. Of particular interest are over 30 small notebooks written during his sojourn in France and Spain during the 1930s and 1940s that contain his journal entries, notes and ideas for plays and stories, and commentary of what he witnessed during this period.

The Barrie Stavis literary archives are a significant addition to the University of Delaware Library's internationally known holdings in 20th-century literature and will be a major resource for students and literary scholars. The collection is currently being processed and will be available for research use in 2011 in Special Collections.

Upon completion of processing of the new materials, the UD Library will create a Barrie Stavis collection “Finding Aid” to accommodate all of the papers, ephemera, and periodical literature that accompanied the collection. The Finding Aid, which will be searchable electronically around the world, will then be on the Internet and will attract researchers to the physical collection in the Morris Library.