On Friday, October 6, 2023 University Libraries hosted a one-day symposium to officially open the Harley Hammerman Collection on Eugene O’Neill. The event was co-sponsored by the Libraries, Performing Arts Department, Center for the Literary Arts, and the Eugene O’Neill Foundation, Tao House. It featured a variety of talks and a performance of an O’Neill play and also constituted the first day of the American Conference for Irish Studies, Midwest Regional Conference, hosted by Arts & Sciences.
The day started with a talk by Ronán Noone, an award-winning playwright and adjunct faculty from Boston University. Noone’s talk focused on his just-published play, Thirst (TRW, 2023), which takes place in the kitchen of Monte Cristo Cottage during the events of O’Neill’s masterpiece, Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Noone discussed the process of creating the play while illustrating how the themes of deracination and immigration are considered essential to our understanding of O’Neill’s work.
Beth Wynstra, associate professor of English at Babson College, and author of Vows, Veils, and Masks: The Performance of Marriage in the Plays of Eugene O’Neill (University of Iowa Press, 2023), presented the first of two plenary addresses. In “Between the Covers: Roles, Performance, and Eugene O’Neill in Early 20th Century Women’s Magazines,” Wynstra compared O’Neill’s depictions of married women on the stage to depictions of the same in contemporary popular magazines, and doing so proposed new possibilities for studying marriages and wife characters in literary and dramatic texts.
Our second plenary speaker was Katie Johnson, professor of English at Miami University, president of the Eugene O’Neill Society, and author of Racing the Great White Way: Black Performance, Eugene O’Neill, and the Transformation of Broadway (University of Michigan Press, 2023). Katie’s talk was titled “Following the Archive” and showed how archives can influence our understanding of theater and performance. She showed a film clip and images of different depictions (and non-depictions) of O’Neill’s groundbreaking stage character, Brutus Jones, as examples.
A tour of The Assembled Playwright exhibition followed the talks. Joel Minor, curator of the Modern Literature Collection and Manuscripts, was joined by collector Harley Hammerman to introduce attendees to the exhibition in the Thomas Gallery of Olin Library. Joel and Harley passed the microphone back and forth as they pointed out collection highlights on display and told stories behind them. Attendees were able to take home copies of the exhibition catalogue which are still available on-site or by request.
The symposium moved to Umrath Lounge for a reception before the formal opening of the Harley Hammerman Collection. Mimi Calter, vice provost and university librarian, gave welcome remarks, followed by Henry Schvey, professor of drama and comparative literature, with an introduction of Harley Hammerman. Harley’s remarks focused on the lifespan of his collection, from being introduced to O’Neill in a high school English class in 1966 to the mixed emotions of letting go of his 110 linear-foot collection to Washington University, in 2018. He concluded that the exhibition and symposium had reinvigorated his interest in promoting the collection and in making his eOneill.com website active again.
The evening concluded with a performance of O’Neill’s lesser-known 1921 drama, The First Man, directed by Eric Frasher Hayes, artistic director for the Eugene O’Neill Foundation, Tao House, with dramaturgy by Beth Wynstra. California actors joined St. Louis actors for a staged reading of the four-act play, which was preceded by a talk written by Beth Wynstra (delivered by Henry Schvey) and followed by a talk-back session with the director and actors.
See this YouTube playlist to view the videos of the grand opening remarks, the pre-performance remarks, the four acts of the play, and the post-play talk-back session. A video recording of Minor and Hammerman’s exhibition tour will be added to the playlist in December 2023.