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COLLECTION Identifier: MS Thr 833

Poets' Theatre (Cambridge, Mass.) records


Records of the Poets' Theatre of Cambridge, Massachusetts.


  • Creation: 1936-1989
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1950-1960

Language of Materials

Collection materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on physical access to this material. Collection is open for research.

A portion of this collection is not housed at the Houghton Library but is shelved offsite at the Harvard Depository. Retrieval requires advance notice. Readers should check with Houghton Public Services staff to determine what material is offsite and retrieval policies and times.


9 linear feet (21 boxes)

Includes organizational and business records, publicity and production materials, correspondence, and original scripts and designs related to the Poets’ Theatre of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Also includes bylaws, cancelled bank checks, clippings, contracts, ephemera, financial reports, leases, licenses for entertainment, membership lists, minutes, photographs, posters, programs, realia, scrapbooks, sound recordings, theater construction plans, receipts, tax records, typescript of a taped discussion with Lyon Phelps and others, and much other material. Some papers are burned on the edges, apparently having been through a fire, probably the #24 Palmer Street fire of 1960.

Some donors included theatrical material that did not directly relate to the Poets' Theatre. These materials have been grouped into "Series VIII. Other theatrical material." It should be noted that some of this "other" material concerns the Poet's Theatre of Harvard, which is a different organization from the Poets' Theatre (Cambridge, Mass.).

Biographical / Historical

The Poets' Theatre was first established by a group of poets living in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the fall of 1950. Their objective was to revive poetic drama and generate work by poets who "would act, administrate, direct, and sell tickets, while retaining total control of their own writing." Members included Richard Eberhart, John Ciardi, Richard Wilbur, V. R. (Violet Ranney "Bunny") Lang, Hugh Amory, John Ashbery, Edward Gorey, Donald Hall, William Matchett, George Montgomery, Frank O'Hara, Lyon Phelps, and others. Except for V. R. Lang, they were all attending Harvard College, or had recently graduated from it. Other names associated with the theater were: Alison Lurie, Kenneth Koch, Mary Manning Howe, Catharine Huntington, Edward Albert Thommen, William Morris Hunt, and many others. In 1968 the theater building on Palmer Street burned down and the Poets' Theatre ended. In October of 1986, a celebration was held in the Agassiz Theatre in Cambridge to memorialize the Poets' Theatre, called by Edward Gorey, a nostalgic "wake."


  1. Alison Lurie. V. R. Lang: poems and plays ; with a memoir. New York: Random House, 1975.
  2. Nora Sayre. The Poets' Theatre: A Memoir of the Fifties; Grand Street, Volume 3, Number 3 (Spring, 1984), pages 92-105. [See item (576) below];
  3. Web site for: The Poets Theatre by Andreas Teuber:


Arranged into the following series :

  1. I. Primary documents
  2. II. Financial records
  3. III. Correspondence
  4. IV. Membership and sponsor records
  5. V. Production materials, by title
  6. VI. General material concerning Poets' Theatre, by date
  7. VII. General material concerning Poets' Theatre, undated
  8. VIII. Other theatrical material
  9. IX. Additions to collection

Physical Location

Harvard Depository

Immediate Source of Acquisition

No accession number. Gift of many donors, see items for more details; received: 1962-2009.

This "archive" of the records of the Poets' Theatre was assembled at the Theatre Collection through a number of accessions accumulated over the years from those persons associated with the development of the theater. Primary gifts were received from:

  1. Lyon Phelps, 1962 August 8.
  2. Catharine Huntington, 1963 January.
  3. Richard Eberhart, 1963 August 7.
  4. Edward Albert Thommen, 1964.
  5. William Morris Hunt, 1965 October 13.
  6. Mrs. Donald Spencer, 1973.
  7. Charles Ash, 1980.
  8. Howard Gaarder, 1986.
  9. Mrs. Robert A. Brooks, 1988 February 16.
  10. 2009MT-9. Part of the Bradley Phillips Collection; gift of Sayre Phillips Sheldon, 2009 July 29.
  11. Alan Fox.

Separated Materials

Removed from collection and sent for cataloging as printed books:

  1. Alison Lurie. V. R. Lang: poems and plays ; with a memoir. New York: Random House, 1975.
  2. V. R. Lang. The pitch: poems and plays of V. R. Lang. New York: Bradley Phillips, 1962.

Processing Information

Processed by : Bonnie B. Salt

Poets' Theatre (Cambridge, Mass.). Poets' Theatre (Cambridge, Mass.) records, 1936-1989 (MS Thr 833): Guide.
Houghton Library, Harvard College Library
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Houghton Library Repository

Houghton Library is Harvard College's principal repository for rare books and manuscripts, archives, and more. Houghton Library's collections represent the scope of human experience from ancient Egypt to twenty-first century Cambridge. With strengths primarily in North American and European history, literature, and culture, collections range in media from printed books and handwritten manuscripts to maps, drawings and paintings, prints, posters, photographs, film and audio recordings, and digital media, as well as costumes, theater props, and a wide range of other objects. Houghton Library has historically focused on collecting the written record of European and Eurocentric North American culture, yet it holds a large and diverse number of primary sources valuable for research on the languages, culture and history of indigenous peoples of the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania.

Houghton Library’s Reading Room is free and open to all who wish to use the library’s collections.

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