The Lanford Wilson Collection at MU Libraries Special Collections and Rare Books

By David Crespy

Lanford at Wire Fence

A young Lanford Wilson

Lanford Wilson: Early Stories, Sketches, and Poetry would have never existed without the talents of Michael Holland, Head of the Special Collections, Archives, and Rare Books Division at the University of Missouri’s Ellis Library, and Anselm Huelsbergen, Technical Services Archivist, who created the Lanford Wilson Collection from the massive bequest of the Lanford Wilson estate, which had been quickly boxed and sent to the University of Missouri, with little or no time to organize the files. Essentially the materials arrived shrink-wrapped on a shipping pallet, and it took many months of careful consideration of archival provenance and organization to put

Michael Holland

Librarian Michael Holland

together a collection that consists of 53 linear feet of manuscripts and approximately 100 books.  I remember working with Mike and Anselm to determine exactly how each script was actually used—either for publication or production, or for what level of production – on or off-Broadway, in rehearsal, and determining some dating on undated materials.  Physical materials ranged from t-shirts, eyeglasses, x-rays, awards, along with correspondence, photographs, programs, posters, and contracts.

They were assisted in their efforts to determine

Lanford and Marshall

Lanford Wilson and director, Marshall Mason

the identity of people in photographs by Marshall W. Mason, the Tony Award-winning director of Lanford Wilson’s works, and by Daniel Irvine, Marshall’s husband, and former director of Circle Repertory Theatre Lab.  It was a daunting task.  It should be noted that Mike and Anselm mostly deal with university archive materials, and that this was the first theatre archive collection created at the University of Missouri, and the work they did was comparable to collections available at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.  The Lanford Wilson Collection is incredibly accessible, and a finding aid can be read at

Additionally, Kelli Hansen, Print Collections Librarian at Special Collections and Rare

Kelli Hansen

Librarian Kelli Hansen

Books, provided ongoing support and access to the resources of the Wilson Collection, retrieving a seemingly endless array of boxes, files, and folders as we worked our way through many different manuscript iterations.  Ms. Hansen worked closely with me as I attempted to make sense of what is available in the collection, finding and retrieving materials, explaining certain restrictions, and making it possible for me to determine the full extent of the collection’s importance in the field of theatre research.

Ms. Hansen also assisted me in research for productions of Lanford Wilson’s plays, Fifth of July, which was produced in Fall 2013 in MU’s Rhynsburger Theater (and received several Certificates of Merit from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival), and for Rimers of Eldritch, which will take place in Spring 2018.

LW manuscript page


However, what was particularly dazzling, was Ms. Hansen amazing facilitation of my archival research course, “Digging Lanford Wilson: An Archival Approach to Drama.”  For the course, Ms. Hansen and I met to organize the specific aspects of creating an new archive that would provide students insights into concepts such as provenance and original order, finding aids, working with fragile materials, etc.  Ms. Hansen then created what I can only describe as a spectacular website which provided glossaries of archival terms, guidelines to working in archives, resources on finding aids and archival research, citation techniques and style guides, research strategies, and a gateway site into the Lanford Wilson Collection itself.  During the course, Ms. Hansen led the initial few sessions, introducing the students to the materials and how to find items, explaining how to work with photos and other non-manuscript materials, explaining techniques on reading Wilson’s particularly challenging handwriting, and explaining the world of archival

Lanford with car

Lanford Wilson in Missouri

research in general.  I simply would not have been able to take on a course like this without Kelli’s amazing ability to carefully and systematically touch all the bases of archival research with such clarity and depth of knowledge.  This course has been repeated this Fall 2017, and once again I am delighted to have her assistance in helping guide students in their first experience in archival research.

I am deeply grateful for all the work that has been provided by the librarians of the University of Missouri in creating the Lanford Wilson Collection – which is a jewel in the crown of MU Library’s archival resources.

9780826221339LANFORD WILSON
Early Stories, Sketches, and Poems
Edited by David Crespy
$45.00 • Hardcover • 978-0-8262-2133-9 • 288 pp. • 7 illus. • 6 x 9

This post is part of University Press Week 2017. Please visit our colleagues’ blogs:

University of Nebraska Press: a post by Pat Leach, director of Lincoln City Libraries.

University Press of Florida: a spotlight on the Florida and the Caribbean Open Books Series, a collaboration between the University of Florida Press and the UF George A. Smathers Libraries.

University of Georgia Press: a post on how libraries serve as a bastion of facts and real information against the onslaught of Fake News.

University of Alabama Press: a conversation with Tom Wilson, Associate Dean for Branch Libraries and at University of Alabama.


  1. […] University of Missouri Press on how their Special Collections archives and librarians helped their author and press with Lanford Wilson: Early Stories, Sketches, Poems. […]


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