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Harry Ransom Center Acquires Playwright Spalding Gray’s Archive

The Harry Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum at The University of Texas at Austin, has acquired the archive of writer and actor Spalding Gray (1941-2004). Spanning more than 40 years, the archive traces the author’s career since the late 1970s, when Gray helped define a new era in theater where public and private life became an indivisible part of each new performance.

Recognized for his critically acclaimed dramatic monologues in which he drew upon his experiences, Gray wrote and performed such works as “Swimming to Cambodia” (1985), “Monster in a Box” (1992), “Gray’s Anatomy” (1994), “It’s a Slippery Slope” (1997) and “Morning, Noon and Night” (1999).

Gray died in New York of an apparent suicide in 2004. He had been working on another monologue, “Life Interrupted,” about a near-fatal car accident he suffered in Ireland.

The collection includes more than 90 handwritten performance notebooks that were the templates for Gray’s live performances and more than 100 private journals. The notebooks are heavily revised and annotated, offering ample evidence of the growth and development of Gray’s most significant pieces. Gray continually expanded and revised his monologues based on audience reception and his own changing needs as a performer, and nearly all of the notebooks contain additional handwritten pages inserted by Gray.

Gray’s private journals provide a coherent timeline of Gray’s thinking and psychological development throughout his career. The handwritten journals are largely diaristic, filled with witty asides detailing everyday experiences, pages of philosophical reflection, dream records and Gray’s examination of his own moral nature.

Together, the performance notebooks and private journals provide insight into how works such as “Swimming to Cambodia” and “Monster in a Box” were drawn from Gray’s most intimate and personal reflections on his daily experiences.

“In the Spalding Gray archive, the mind of a man has been transferred to paper,” said Helen Adair, associate curator of performing arts at the Ransom Center. “In his journals and performance notebooks, he writes about sex, death, drugs and love with honesty and humor. His voice is clear, and he appears to have no filter. Everything is written down without shame. Like his performances, it is powerful because it is so personal.”

The collection contains numerous examples of unpublished writing, including short stories, plays and poems, as well as manuscript and draft material of his works “It’s a Slippery Slope” and “Morning, Noon and Night.”

Substantial audio and video materials in the collection, including more than 150 audio tapes and more than 120 VHS tapes, will allow scholars to trace the evolution of Gray’s work in front of an audience, the arena for which he was best known.

The collection also contains the first and only edition of Gray’s debut work, “Seven Scenes from a Family Album” (1981), which is bound in original saddle-stitched wrappers.

More than 300 letters make up the correspondence component of the archive. Many of the letters are of a personal nature between Gray and his wives, but there are also fan letters and correspondence from musician Luis Fonsi López-Cepero, actress Fran Drescher and director Jonathan Demme.

Many of Gray’s works were adapted to film, including Demme’s 1987 film “Swimming to Cambodia,” which includes Gray’s performances, the HBO comedy special “Monster in a Box” that was released by New Line Features in 1992 and Steven Soderbergh’s film “Gray’s Anatomy” (1997). Soderbergh also directed the documentary “And Everything Is Going Fine” (2010) about Gray’s life and work.

Gray’s materials at the Ransom Center will reside alongside the papers of such writers as David Mamet, Tom Stoppard, Lewis Allen, Norman Mailer, Jayne Anne Phillips and Tim O’Brien, as well as those of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett.

A portion of the archive was donated to the Center by Gray’s widow, Kathleen Russo. The materials will be accessible once processed and cataloged.

Image: Harry Ransom Center

Harry Ransom Center
The University of Texas at Austin
P.O. Box 7219
Austin TX 78713-7219

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