Dramatist in America: Letters of Maxwell Anderson, 1912-1958

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University of North Carolina Press, 1977 - Literary Collections - 366 pages
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From the 1920s through the 1950s Maxwell Anderson was one of the most important playwrights in America. His thirty-three produced plays make him a leader among these playwrights of America's most creative era in the theater, and a number of his plays have shown a lasting vitality and importance. What Price Glory (1924) dramatized the disillusionment and horror of World War I . With Elizabeth the Queen (1929), Winterset (1935), and High Tor (1936), Anderson revived poetic drama in the modern theater. His versatility as a playwright was further reflected in the satire Both Your Houses (1933), the historical parable Joan of Lorraine (1946), and the musical play Lost in the Stars (1949).

This edition of Anderson's letters spans his adult life -- from 1912, shortly after he graduated from the University of North Dakota, to 1958, just before his death. Arranged chronologically, the letters reveal in full and intimate detail the development of his career, his methods of work, his relationships with theater people, his conceptions of himself as a playwright and of the nature of the theater, and his ideas about his plays, all of which focused on an inner moral struggle. Every aspect of his work and personality emerges in these letters, which serve as an autobiography in the rough. Each letter is fully annotated, permitting the reader to become a party to the correspondence. The editor has provided an informative introduction to the letters and also a substantial chronology of Anderson's life that incorporates the first complete bibliography of his plays, poems, essays, fiction, and screenplays. An appendix includes Anderson's previously unpublished statements about his life and his plays.

Dramatist in America, the first edition of letters by a major American playwright, takes on added importance for its representative quality. It reveals the cultural and theatrical conditions under which a vital generation of playwrights created this country's finest period in the drama.

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About the author (1977)

After some years as a teacher and a journalist, Maxwell Anderson turned to drama in 1923, achieving his first success with What Price Glory? in 1924, a World War I comedy cowritten with Laurence Stallings. During his long and successful career as a dramatist, Anderson produced historical dramas, patriotic plays, musicals, fantasies, and a thriller. Perhaps his best piece is Winterset (1935), a play Inspired by the Sacco and Vanzetti case. Anderson's first play was a verse drama. Beginning with Elizabeth the Queen (1940), his most famous historical drama, he employed for many years an irregular blank verse, typical of his attempt to bring high seriousness to the Broadway stage. Critics have not been enthusiastic about Anderson's work, and his plays are seldom revived today, but in his heyday-especially the 1930s-his plays repeatedly succeeded in the commercial theater. Anderson won the Pulitzer Prize for drama for Both Your Houses (1933) and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Winterset (1935) and High Tor (1937).

Laurence G. Avery, editor of the award-winning A Southern Life: Letters of Paul Green, 1916-1981, is professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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