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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 1224: DVD-167: T-599

Papers of Adrienne Kennedy, 1904-2021 (inclusive), 1954-2021 (bulk)


Playscripts, autobiographical writings, correspondence, promotional material (including reviews, flyers and posters), photographs, scrapbooks, notebooks, and audiovisual material of experimental playwright Adrienne Kennedy. Some material related to her extended family is also included.


  • Creation: 1904-2021
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1954-2021


Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research. Researchers must contact Research Services for access to audiovisual material and #E.1.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the unpublished papers created by Adrienne Kennedy is held by Adrienne Kennedy. Upon her death, copyright will be transferred to her son Adam Kennedy. Copyright in Kennedy's published work is outside the scope of this agreement. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


13.89 linear feet ((30 file boxes, 1 folio+ box) plus 3 folio folders, 1 oversize folder, 1 supersize folder, 5 photograph folders, 1 folio photograph folder, 6 slides, 4 audiotapes, 1 DVD)

The collection documents Adrienne Kennedy's personal and professional life. It reflects her writing process and her development as a writer deeply concerned with the experiences of Black people, particularly of Black women in America. It includes biographical information on Kennedy and her extended family; playscripts and related material (including correspondence, publicity, and reviews); drafts of Kennedy's plays; drafts of published writings including her memoir People Who Led to My Plays; unpublished essays and manuscript drafts; a small amount of material related to her teaching career, including syllabi for a class taught at Harvard; correspondence; and photographs of Kennedy and her family and friends.

Kennedy kept a portion of her papers in labeled manilla envelopes, often writing extensive notes and annotations on the envelopes. The archivist removed items from the envelopes and placed them in acid free folders, adding information from Kennedy's notes to the folder descriptions in this finding aid. When the notes were particularly lengthy (more than a few sentences), she also included the relevant portion of the envelope with the refoldered materials. In some cases, the notes did not accurately reflect the envelope's contents. The collection also included a large quantity of loose material, which the archivist sorted, arranged, and foldered. Most folder headings were created by Kennedy; in some cases, the archivist added additional information, which appears in square brackets. Headings created by the archivist also appear in square brackets.

Series I, BIOGRAPHICAL AND PERSONAL, 1904-2021 (#1.1-17.5, FD.1-FD.2, 31F+B.1-31F+B.7, E.1-E.2), documents Kennedy's personal life from her childhood onward, as well as the lives of members of her extended family. It includes biographical information on Kennedy, including articles on her and her plays; curricula vitae and Who's Who entries; and interviews. Also included is information about various awards she received, including the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, which she noted was her favorite. The series also includes material related to the Adrienne Kennedy Society, which was founded to support young "minority" writers. In addition, the series includes engagement books and calendars (some of these including notes rather than specific dated entries) and printed material on Cleveland, Ohio, Kennedy's hometown.

Also included are letters from friends, family, and professional associates. Very few letters from Kennedy are included, most of them drafts or letters that were apparently unsent. Correspondents include fellow playwrights such as Edward Albee, Edward Bond, Horton Foote, Tony Kushner, Harold Pinter, and Sam Shepard; and actors and others involved in the theater, such as Alan Arkin, Ruby Dee, Anjelica Huston, and Estelle Parsons. Correspondence regarding the Great Lakes Theater Festival production of The Ohio State Murders and the donation of some of her papers to the Harry Ransom Center is also included, as are notes and writing exercises sent to Kennedy by school children, some with comments by Kennedy; and letters from her parents, husband, sons, and other family members.

The series also includes emails Kennedy forwarded to Schlesinger Library curatorial staff. Several of these emails relate to the production of The Ohio State Murders on Broadway in 2022 and Audra McDonald's performance in the play. Other topics include awards Kennedy received, other productions of her plays (including a possible Zoom version of Etta and Ella on the Upper West Side), and the possibility of a film adaptation of A Movie Star Has to Star in Black and White. In one email exchange, Kennedy notes that she only talked to her white grandfather, Leon Harrison, three times. Kennedy's email correspondents include Adam P. Kennedy, Ishmael Reed, Virginia Constable Maxwell, Henry Louis "Skip" Gates, and Allegra Huston. The email component of the collection is represented in this finding aid as #E.1.

Also included are high school and college graduation programs and Kennedy's Ohio State University yearbook; financial information including royal statements; Kennedy's will and living will; and travel information documenting trips to Amsterdam, Berlin, Budapest, London, Brussels, and Prague. In addition, the series includes images (photographs and photocopies) collected by Kennedy and depicting theaters, family members, and other items of significance to her. Also included are notebooks in which Kennedy recorded thoughts and ideas, some related to her plays.

The series also includes material regarding Kennedy's family, including articles by and about her parents, Cornell W. Hawkins Sr. and Etta Mae Haugabook Hawkins; their marriage certificate; programs for banquets honoring Cornell W. Hawkins Sr.; a diary kept by Etta Mae Hawkins; images of track medals won by Cornell Hawkins Jr.; a photocopy of Kennedy's marriage certificate and programs for theater shows she attended with Joseph Kennedy Sr.; articles by and about Joseph Kennedy Sr., including regarding Africare House and Youth for Africa; promotional postcards for enterprises by Joseph Kennedy Jr.; an interview of Joseph Papp (including references to Adrienne Kennedy) by Adam Kennedy; and an essay by Kennedy's grandson Canaan titled "The Mulatto's Place in the Modern World: A Self Introspective."

In addition, the series includes a PDF titled "Cherished Objects from the Past--Collected by Adrienne Kennedy Photographed by Jacob Kennedy" and represented in this finding aid as #E.2. It consists of images of Kennedy and her family, and of objects she and family members owned, including furniture, jewelry, dishes, her grandmother's bible, and clothing. Many images include explanatory and descriptive notes by Kennedy.

The series is arranged with biographical material about Kennedy appearing first, followed by an alphabetical listing.

Series II, PLAYS, 1954-2020 (#17.6-24.3, FD.3, 31F+B.8, OD.1, SD.1), documents the development of Kennedy as a playwright from the 1950s to the late 2010s. It includes scripts for plays ranging from the early work Pale Blue Flowers to He Brought Her Heart Back In a Box, from the 2010s. Productions and interpretations of Kennedy's plays over the decades are also documented here. Drafts, contracts and agreements, production information, playbills, posters and flyers, reviews, etc. from various productions of the plays are included. Several items are accompanied by notes from Kennedy explaining their significance to her. Included are a page of Funnyhouse of a Negro written in Rome, a program for the 1964 production of that play; and the screenplay for a proposed movie version; Obie award certificates for June and Jean in Concert and an Obie award certificate for costume design received by Montana Levi Blanco for He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box; and images Kennedy studied while writing that play.

Material for the Great Lakes Theater Festival production of The Ohio State Murders includes a note by Kennedy stating that Ruby Dee (who starred in the show) was "a surprising person." One of the scripts for that play is accompanied by Kennedy's note that working with Dee was a lifelong dream. Two of the plays, Mom, How Did You Meet the Beatles? and Sleep Deprivation Chamber, were co-written with her son Adam. The latter play was based on the police assault on Adam in the driveway of his father's home and the material related to it includes a partial trial transcript and letters of support for Adam when he was charged with assaulting the police officer. Material on Mom, How Did You Meet the Beatles? includes notes for a book version by Adam and for a proposed screenplay. The series also includes incomplete drafts of a screenplay, Stranger's Gallery, co-written by Kennedy and Adam, and drafts of additional untitled screenplays, one on blues musician Robert Johnson. Publicity, etc., related to the Signature Theatre's Kennedy season is also included in the series, which is arranged alphabetically. A few folders include material related to plays that the archivist could not identify.

Series III, OTHER WRITINGS, 1945-2016 (#24.4-30.9, 31F+B.9), reflects Kennedy's evolution as a writer of prose and poetry. As with her plays, much of the work includes autobiographical elements. The series includes multiple drafts of Kennedy's early unpublished novels "Ben Haflin" and "Maggie the Virgin"; essays on family members; short stories and other writings (including fragments and drafts), many featuring recurring characters including Aaron Glassman, Blake, Cisley, and Pearl; and published poems and essays, including Kennedy's first published work "Because of the King of France." Also included are a few works credited to Suzanne Alexander (the heroine of several of Kennedy's plays). The series also includes fragments, drafts, and manuscripts of Kennedy's autobiographical writings "Paragraphs, Passages and Pages That Changed My Life" and People Who Led to My Plays. Publicity for the latter is also included. Some folders include typed and handwritten loose pages from projects that could not be identified. The series is arranged alphabetically.

Series IV, TEACHING, 1966-2002 (#30.10-30.19), documents Kennedy's career as a lecturer or fellow at Yale; the University of California, Berkeley; and Harvard. Syllabi and exams for her Harvard class "Black Playwrights of the World" is included, as is information on Harvard's creative writing program, which featured a course taught by Kennedy. The series includes notes from Kennedy stating that teaching at Harvard gave her "a sense of achievement" and that Lawrence Buell told her that she gave Harvard's English department "GRAVITAS." The series is arranged chronologically.

Series V, PHOTOGRAPHS AND AUDIOVISUAL, 1935-2003, undated (#PD.1-PD.7, DVD.167.1, T-599.1--T-599.4), includes photographs of Kennedy at various stages of her life, including photographs of her taken by Joseph C. Kennedy Sr. when she was a student at Ohio State University; with Joseph C. Kennedy on their wedding day; in the gown she wore for the opening night of Funnyhouse of a Negro in 1964; with friends including Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee; being honored by the American Academy of Arts and Letters; at the opening night of the Signature Theatre's 1995 production of Funnyhouse of a Negro; and at other venues. The series also includes photographs of Kennedy's extended family, including her parents, sons, and grandchildren. A mid-1940s photograph of Cornell W. Hawkins Sr. and Etta Mae Haugabook Hawkins socializing with their friends includes the caption that Kennedy "worshipped [sic.] these people."

Also included are a DVD containing footage of the Kennedy family's trip to Europe in 1960; an audiotape of a performance of Kennedy's radio play The Dramatic Circle; an audiotape of a discussion of theatrical collaboration involving Kennedy and her work; and audiotapes of a radio series discussing the work of Black women writers in Africa, America, the Caribbean, and Britain, with Kennedy's work included in the discussion. The series is arranged by format.

Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be digitized and available online.


African American avant-garde playwright Adrienne Kennedy was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1931, the daughter of Cornell W. Hawkins and Etta Mae Haugabook Hawkins. Etta Mae was the daughter of Leon Harrison, a white landowner in Montezuma, Georgia, and a fifteen-year-old African American girl who worked in his peach orchard. Harrison sent Etta Mae to boarding school and funded her education at Atlanta University.

In 1936, the Kennedy family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where Cornell Hawkins served first as executive director of the Cedar branch of the YMCA and later as assistant director of the City of Cleveland's community relations board. Etta Mae was a schoolteacher. The family frequently visited relatives in Montezuma, and the atmosphere of the southern United States made a deep impression on Kennedy, eventually influencing her work. Kennedy's parents divorced in 1963, confusing and upsetting her. Her younger brother, Cornell, died in 1972.

Kennedy learned to read at the age of three and as a child, she read nineteenth century novels such as Frankenstein, Jane Eyre, and Dracula. Her later work often drew upon her feeling for the worlds created in these books. Kennedy greatly admired her mother's appearance and as a teenager was critical of her own looks, judging herself to be "thin pale plain." Despite this, she harbored a secret wish to be a movie star and was fascinated by the world of classic film. This was a taste she shared with her mother, who had named her after the film actress Adrienne Ames.

Kennedy earned a BA in education from Ohio State University in 1953. She found her time at the university difficult, due to the prejudice and racism of her fellow students. Shortly before her graduation, she married Joseph C. Kennedy. Their first son, Joseph Jr. (known as "Joedy") was born in 1954, while Joseph Sr., who had been drafted, served with the United States Army in Korea. Kennedy lived with her parents during this time and began writing fiction and her first play. After Joseph Sr.'s return to the United States, the family moved to New York City, where Joseph earned a Ph.D. in social psychology from Columbia University and Kennedy studied writing at the New School for Social Research and Columbia University. During this time she completed her first (and as of 2023 unproduced) play, Pale Blue Flowers. In her memoir, People Who Led to My Plays, Kennedy writes of this time, "...I often felt caring for a baby all day and being a young housewife a tremendous letdown. Was this were my life had been leading?"

In 1960, Joseph received grants from the Human Ecology Fund and the African Medical Research Foundation to go to Nigeria, Ghana, and Liberia for a year, to study those countries' perceptions of each other and of the United States and Britain. Kennedy and Joedy accompanied him, traveling on the ship Queen Elizabeth. Frustrated by her failure to become a published writer, Kennedy, who had long dreamed of an ocean voyage, vowed that she would be transformed by the trip, though she noted in her biography that "how or exactly in what way transformed I didn't know." She wrote what became her first published story "Because of the King of France," on the journey; the story was published in the West African literary magazine Black Orpheus.

She began writing the surrealist play Funnyhouse of a Negro while in Ghana but completed the work in Rome, where she had relocated due to complications with her second pregnancy. The Kennedys' second son, Adam, was born there in 1961. Upon returning to New York, Kennedy studied playwriting with Edward Albee at the Playwrights Unit workshop for new writers. She was initially reluctant to share her work due to its personal nature and contemplated leaving the group, but with Albee's encouragement, Funnyhouse of a Negro was produced in 1964, winning the 1964 Obie Award for Distinguished Play.

Kennedy and Joseph divorced in 1966. That same year, Kennedy was commissioned to write a play by London's Royal Court Theatre; this resulted in the monologue Sun: A Poem for Malcolm X Inspired by His Murder. She spent the next three years in London, meeting a number of writers, musicians, and actors, including Laurence Olivier and the Beatles. Inspired in part by her sons' love for the Beatles' music, she decided to adapt John Lennon's book In His Own Write into a play. She worked on this project with Lennon and actor and author Victor Spinetti, but gradually lost control of the project and came to feel she had failed to understand her collaborators' attitude towards her. Her complicated feelings about this experience are reflected in the play Mom, How Did You Meet the Beatles?, which she and her son Adam co-wrote decades later.

In the late 1970s, Kennedy met writer and composer Ishmael Reed, who arranged for her to teach at the University of California, Berkeley. In a 1998 interview in the Village Voice, Kennedy noted that the academic world has been a "sustaining force" for her, with her experience at Berkeley giving her a new lease on life. In 1980, she was the chancellor's distinguished lecturer and the university organized a month of events focused on her; she said of this "I had no idea that people felt my work was so important, no idea at all." She lectured at Berkeley periodically for the next six years, noting of this time that Adam was at college and it was the first time since she was twenty-one that she had not needed to make dinner every night for a child. She has also taught or lectured at Yale University (1972-1974); Princeton University (1976 or 1977); Brown University (1979-1980); the University of California, Davis (1981-1982); and Harvard University (1990-1991, 1997-2001). She has observed that her association with Harvard was particularly meaningful to her.

In 1991, Adam Kennedy was severely beaten by a policeman after driving to his father's house in Arlington, Virginia, with a broken taillight. He was charged with resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer but was found not guilty. Kennedy and Adam based the play Sleep Deprivation Chamber upon this disturbing incident. The play, together with Kennedy's June and Jean in Concert, won an Obie for Best New American Play in 1996. New York's Signature Theatre devoted its 1995-1996 season to her plays.

Several of Kennedy's plays feature an alter ego named Suzanne Alexander; plays with this character were collected into an anthology volume, The Alexander Plays. Additional works include The Owl Answers (1965); A Rat's Mass (1967); A Lesson in Dead Language (1968); A Beast's Story (1969, produced with The Owl Answers as Cities in Bezique); An Evening with Dead Essex (1972); A Movie Star Has to Star in Black and White (1976); Black Children's Day (1980); Electra and Orestes (1980, adapted from the plays by Euripides); A Lancashire Lad (1980, children's musical based on the life of Charlie Chaplin); Diary of Lights (1987); She Talks to Beethoven (1989, collected as part of The Alexander Plays; The Ohio State Murders (1992, collected as part of The Alexander Plays); The Film Club (1992); The Dramatic Circle (1992, radio drama based on The Film Club); and He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box (2018).

Kennedy's work incorporates elements of her own life, including her dreams, and examines issues of race and violence in the United States. She is one of the first African American playwrights to incorporate non-linear structure and surrealism into her work. In addition to the commission from the Royal Court Theatre, she received commissions from Juilliard, the Great Lakes Theater Festival, and the Public Theater. Her work has been produced across the United States and throughout the world, although she has observed that it is more frequently studied in universities than performed on stage.

Kennedy has also written in other genres, including poetry, essays, and a memoir, People Who Led to My Plays (1987), which recounts how people including teachers, friends, family, classmates, actors, writers, and fictional characters influenced her life. In 2001, a compilation of her work was published as The Adrienne Kennedy Reader. She has won numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, two Rockefeller Grants, and a lifetime achievement Obie Award (2008), and was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame in 2018. In 2022, The Ohio State Murders was produced at New York's James Earl Jones Theater, the first time one of Kennedy's plays was produced on Broadway. In 2023, she received a lifetime achievement honor citation from the New York Drama Critics' Circle. After being based in New York City for most of her adult life, Kennedy moved to Williamsburg, Virginia, in 2011, to live with her son Adam and his family. She continues to reside there as of 2023.


The collection is arranged in five series:

  1. Series I. Biographical and Personal, 1904-2021 (#1.1-17.5, FD.1-FD.2, 31F+B.1-31F+B.7, E.1-E.2)
  2. Series II. Plays, 1954-2020 (#17.6-24.3, FD.3, 31F+B.8, OD.1, SD.1)
  3. Series III. Other writings, 1945-2016 (#24.4-30.9, 31F+B.9)
  4. Series IV. Teaching, 1966-2002 (#30.10-30.19)
  5. Series V. Photographs and audiovisual, 1935-2003, undated (#PD.1-PD.7, DVD.167.1, T-599.1--T-599.4)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 2013-M194, 2021-M200, 2022-M131, 2023-M194

The papers of Adrienne Kennedy were acquired from Adrienne Kennedy by the Schlesinger Library in partnership with Harvard University's Hutchins Center for African & African American Research in November 2021, with additional donations by the Hutchins Center in July 2022 and by Adrienne Kennedy in December 2023.

Related Material:

There is related material at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin; see the papers of Adrienne Kennedy (Manuscript Collection MS-02267).

There is related material at the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College; see the Adrienne Kennedy materials in the Betsko-Koenig Women Playwrights Collection (SSC-MS-00427).

There is related material at the Kent State University Special Collections and Archives; see the Records of the Great Lakes Theater Festival.

Processing Information

Processed: December 2023

By: Susan Earle, with assistance from Dominic Scheidegger and Janin Escobedo Garcia

The Schlesinger Library attempts to provide a basic level of preservation and access for all collections, and does more extensive processing of higher priority collections as time and resources permit.  Finding aids may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.



Kennedy, Adrienne. Papers of Adrienne Kennedy,1904-2021 (inclusive), 1954-2021 (bulk): A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description
Processing of this collection was made possible by the Eliza Taylor and George W. Ransom Memorial Fund and Robert and Elizabeth Owen Shenton Fund.

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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