Beckett’s letters reveal a writer whose life and art offer paradigms for the cross currents of the twentieth century. Beckett's writings extended the limits of fiction, drama, poetry and criticism. He wrote drama for stage, radio, television and film. The letters show how the visual arts and music compelled Beckett’s attention and reveal the influence of paintings on his stage images and musical forms on the patterns of his prose. Close associations with theatre artists, painters and musicians resulted in much collaboration during his lifetime, just as his texts have continued to inspire artists, composers, and other writers to create new work.
In 1985, Samuel Beckett authorized Martha Dow Fehsenfeld and Lois More Overbeck to edit his letters; they have gathered and consulted Beckett’s voluminous correspondence (over 16,000 letters) in public and private collections. George Craig (French translator) and Dan Gunn later joined them as Editors. The four-volume edition publishes letters selected for their bearing on Beckett’s work -- from preliminary versions to publication and production history. Beckett wrote in both English and French and translated much of his work from one language into the other; he also assisted in and directed productions of his plays. While he claimed to be “in the dark” about his creative process, Beckett’s letters demonstrate his multi-layered involvement in the realization of his work. Publication of these letters opens new avenues of inquiry for scholars, students, and appreciative readers.
The project to edit Beckett’s letters became affiliated with the Emory University Graduate School in 1990 and, with its support, received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (1991-1997, 2008-2016). Awards from the Florence Gould Foundation to the project (1992-2003) enabled The American University of Paris to become a center for the edition in France. By involving students in the research, the edition has served as a “laboratory for humanities research.”
All four volumes are now published. They have been translated into German (Suhrkamp), French (Gallimard), and Italian (Adelphi), with a Chinese edition forthcoming (Hunan Literature and Art).
Two Beckett Letters web projects are underway at Emory University. The Location Register describes and gives current ownership of Beckett letters in public archives (supported by the Gladys Delmas Foundation); this is complete for archives in the United States, Canada, Ireland, Scotland, and England, with European and other global archives currently underway. The Interactive Index Project (in development with the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship) presents identification of persons, organizations, places, productions, publications, writing, reading, music, works of art, and world events mentioned in Beckett’s letters in public archives and a double chronology: Beckett's Life/Work and World Events.