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Ransom Center Acquires David Mamet Papers

The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin has acquired the papers of playwright, writer and film director David Mamet, author of more than 50 plays and 25 screenplays that have earned him a Pulitzer Prize, Oscar nominations and a Tony Award.

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AUSTIN, Texas—The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin has acquired the papers of playwright, writer and film director David Mamet, author of more than 50 plays and 25 screenplays that have earned him a Pulitzer Prize, Oscar nominations and a Tony Award.

“Having an archive in the care of the Ransom Center, in the care, if I may, of intelligent and dedicated enthusiasts, fulfilled both the fantasy of the parent, and that of the artist, who now, though absent, might envision a cost-free colloquy with a perfect interlocutor,” said Mamet in a statement.

David Mamet

David Mamet’s scene design for “American Buffalo.”
David Mamet papers
© David Mamet
Harry Ransom Center

The more than 100 boxes of material cover Mamet’s entire career and contain manuscripts, journals, office and production files, correspondence and multiple drafts of each of Mamet’s works, including the acclaimed plays “American Buffalo” (1975) and “Glengarry Glen Ross” (1992) and screenplays “The Untouchables” (1988), “The Spanish Prisoner” (1997) and “Wag the Dog” (1997).  These materials record the writing and revision of all of his published texts, as well as several that are unpublished or were abandoned.

“David Mamet’s materials will be a great resource for students and scholars here at the university,” said University of Texas at Austin President William Powers Jr. “He is one of the foremost and influential American writers and directors. I am personally pleased that his work is coming to the Ransom Center, because I have regularly had my freshman seminar students study ‘The Spanish Prisoner.’”

In support of the archive, Mamet has agreed to contribute to the intellectual life of The University of Texas at Austin by joining the university community in a series of short residencies for four years.

“I look forward to interactions with students and otherwise interested people at the university in the coming years, as A) I love to teach, and B) anybody who is interested in my work is ‘okay with me,’” said Mamet.

During these residencies, Mamet may be a guest lecturer in various courses, work with students on the production of a play and give readings, lectures and public addresses. 

David Mamet on set of

David Mamet on set of “The Postman Always Rings Twice” (1981), 1980.
David Mamet papers
Unknown photographer
Harry Ransom Center

“Mamet’s papers and his presence at the university will provide exceptional opportunities for students, faculty and researchers,” said Thomas F. Staley, director of the Harry Ransom Center. “The journals and manuscripts will be used in both English and theater arts courses to demonstrate the creative process and the evolution of a text. The office files will be used in film and theater classes to show, first hand, how a text is transformed into a production. And the materials will be used to inform future productions by students of Mamet’s celebrated works.” 

The 175 journals, most ranging from 150 to 200 pages each, record the seeds of Mamet’s work, his daily reflections and his notes, ideas and experimental writings.

“I started keeping a journal over forty years ago, and, so, established the habit of writing longhand,” said Mamet. “Virtually everything I’ve written since: plays, screenplays, non-fiction and novels, existed first in hardbound, lined notebooks full of black or blue ink.”

The journals span Mamet’s career from 1966 to 2001 and constitute an unprecedented resource in the evolution of American theater and film. They not only provide insight into Mamet’s craft but also offer a full picture of the process of playwriting in detail that may be unparalleled.      

“The journals illuminate Mamet’s developing views on writing and directing, as well as performance and production,” said Staley. “These journals are indeed records of the second half of the 20th century. Mamet was a man aware of his times, and the journals reflect not only the evolution of American theater and culture but also the impulses that prompted them. The study of these utterly unique and invaluable records of Mamet’s life and works will give scholars and students the opportunity to learn about the evolution of a cultural period as well as Mamet’s artistic creations.”

While the journals and manuscripts illustrate how Mamet’s ideas become completed works, the office and production files document how the text becomes a production and what occurs on the set or in the theater. These files include weekly schedules, occasional unused dialogue, song lyrics, editorial material regarding various books and business agreements.

Another component of the papers is the correspondence, which relates both to Mamet’s professional work and to his personal life. Extensive correspondence from actor Joe Mantegna and performer Ricky Jay are included, as well as numerous letters from theater director Gregory Mosher, actors Patti LuPone, Steve Martin and Jude Law, British playwright Harold Pinter and film director Mike Nichols.

Some of David Mamet

Some of David Mamet’s journals and notebooks, ranging from 1966 through 2001.
David Mamet papers
Harry Ransom Center

The papers include letters from agents, editors and crew and production staff regarding Mamet’s works and their productions and letters from writers, actors and Mamet’s friends.

The materials will be accessible once organized and housed.

“Mamet is known for his brilliant and acute dialogue, deeply American characters and incisive critique of the American experience,” said Staley. “He is indeed a major chronicler of American culture, and his papers contribute significantly to the Center’s American theater holdings.” 

The Ransom Center houses the collections of several playwrights of the 20th century, including Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller, Lillian Hellman, Adrienne Kennedy, Lee Blessing and Terrence McNally. 

The Center also holds the archives of many of the most important British playwrights of the century, including John Osborne, Tom Stoppard, David Hare, Arnold Wesker and James Saunders.

Select materials from the Mamet papers will be displayed on the first floor of the Center from Wednesday, April 18, through Sunday, May 6.

High-resolution press images from the Mamet papers are available. A full statement from Mamet regarding the acquisition is also available.

For more information contact: Jennifer Tisdale, Harry Ransom Center, 512-471-8949; Alicia Dietrich, Harry Ransom Center, 512-232-3667.