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Maria Irene Fornés Papers

Call Number



1909-2005, inclusive
; 1980-1999, bulk


Fornes, Maria Irene
Marranca, Bonnie
INTAR (Theatrical company : New York, N.Y.)


18.5 Linear Feet
in 38 manuscript boxes, 1 oversize folder, and 14 computer files.

Language of Materials

Materials are in English and Spanish.


Maria Irene Fornés (b. 1930) is a Cuban-American avant-garde dramatist, director, and teacher of playwriting. Her work, most particularly associated with both the Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway movements of the 1960s and New York City's "downtown scene" of the 1980s, has had a major influence on several generations of American playwrights. Winner of 9 Obies, as well as numerous additional awards and honors, Fornés wrote over 50 works for the stage between 1961 and 2001. Her best-known pieces are Fefu and Her Friends (1977), The Danube (1982), Mud (1983), and Promenade (1965), a musical play. The papers document more than half of Fornés' entire oevre, in original and annotated playscripts, libretti, and adapted works dating from 1961 through 2001; they also document Fornés' writing process through notes, scenarios, character sketches, and other writings. The remainder of the papers consists of business and professional documents, personal correspondence, family papers, and subject files. The entire collection spans 1909 through 2005, but most of its materials date from the 1980s and 1990s.

Biographical / Historical

Maria Irene Fornés is a Cuban-American avant-garde dramatist, director, and teacher of playwriting. Her work, most particularly associated with both the Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway movements of the 1960s and the "downtown scene" of New York City in the 1980s, has had a major influence on several generations of American playwrights. Winner of 9 Obies, as well as numerous additional awards and honors, Fornés wrote over 50 works for the stage between 1961 and 2001. Subjects of her work have included women's lives, lesbian love, Cuban culture, poverty, and emigration; and themes have featured social, political, and interpersonal power relationships.

Fornés was born on May 14, 1930, in Havana, Cuba, the youngest of six children of Carlos Luis and Carmen Hismenia (Collado) Fornés. Her father, a self-taught intellectual, worked at modest white-collar government jobs and her mother had been a teacher before marriage. The family was poor, but cultured. Fornés, with less than four years of formal schooling, was mostly educated at home.

At age 15, Irene (as she began to call herself) emigrated to the United States with her mother and a sister. There she worked at a number of routine jobs to support herself, including in a ribbon factory. In 1947 Fornés took a folk-dancing class at New York City's New School through which she was introduced to Greenwich Village's Bohemian arts and culture scene. She soon moved to Greenwich Village, where she continued to live for the next forty years. During the 1950s she studied painting with abstract impressionist Hans Hoffman; from 1954 through 1957 she was an expatriate, traveling in Europe and living in Paris with American writer Harriet Sohmers Zwerling. In Paris she met Susan Sontag and they became lovers. After her return to the United States the two lived together for several years and Fornés worked as a textile designer.

According to Fornés' account, it was through her relationship with Sontag that she began to write plays—accidentally, she claimed, in an attempt to help Sontag begin her own writing by demonstrating how easy it was to start. Fornés' first play, written in Spanish, La Viuda (The Widow), was written in 1961, followed by There, You Died! (renamed Tango Palace)—her first play in English—in 1963, which was immediately accepted and staged by a San Francisco theater company. Fornés, who had heretofore never received any theatrical or dramatic training, joined the Playwrights Unit of the Actors Studio and took a Method acting course. The years 1965 and 1966 saw the writing and production of Fornés' only commercial success, Promenade, a play with music written by Al Carmines, a colleague at the Judson Poets Theater; and The Office, her only foray into Broadway theater, which closed after previews. After this early turn towards mainstream theater, Fornés' plays were performed exclusively Off-Broadway (and its equivalent venues in other parts of the country as well as in Europe) or in college or university productions. She began to direct most of her own works and directed, adapted, and translated other playwrights' work as well; she also collaborated with composers to create operas. Perhaps her best-known plays, produced in the 1970s and 1980s, are Fefu and Her Friends (1977), The Danube (1983), and Mud (1983). She was honored with awards and obtained artist residencies, grants, and commissioned works. Nearly two dozen of her plays were published, although a significant number of them were performed not more than once or twice or were never staged beyond a workshop performance.

As recognition of Fornés' plays spread, it brought invitations to visit other countries. Her extensive travels to present or discuss her work included trips to Mexico, India, Japan, Germany, North Africa, the Middle East and the Soviet Union. Irene Fornés' work as a teacher of playwriting and mentor to emerging playwrights has been recognized and praised as much, if not more, than her plays. The many workshops, classes, and lectures she presented, including her long association with the Hispanic American theater organization INTAR (International Arts Relations, Inc.) exercised a considerable influence on emerging playwrights, in particular a generation of young Latino playwrights. Fornés' organizational work was important as well. In addition to her service on the council of the Dramatists' Guild of America, in 1973 she co-founded New York Theatre Strategy, a writer-centered cooperative theater production company and spent so much time acting variously as its producer, fundraiser, costumer, publicist and administrator that for several years she laid aside her own writing and directing.

In 2001 illness forced Irene Fornés to retire. Her last completed play (first produced in 2000) was Letters from Cuba; her last working play was27 Rue de Fleurus, a piece about the life of Gertrude Stein.


The papers are arranged in eight series, the first of which has been further arranged into subseries. The series and subseries arrangement is as follows:

Series I: Play Scripts and Production Records
Subseries 1: Plays by Fornés
Subseries 2: Plays by Others Directed by Fornés
Series II: Notes, Scenarios, and Writings in Process
Series III: Business and Finance Files
Series IV: INTAR (International Arts Relations, Inc.) Records
Series V: Family Papers
Series VI: Personal Correspondence
Series VII: Teaching Materials and Students' Work
Series VIII: Subject/Research Files

Folders are arranged in alphabetical order by folder title with the exception of Series IV, which is arranged in chronological order.

Scope and Content

The papers span 1909 to 2005, with the bulk from the 1980s and 1990s, and were created during the course of Irene Fornés' playwriting and directing, teaching, administrative and organizational activities and personal relationships. They include play scripts in both paper and electronic form, production notes, set designs and drawings, correspondence, family papers, newspaper clippings, play and book reviews, itineraries, travel ephemera, grant proposals, contracts, play programs, workshop exercises, and student work, as well as notes, play ideas, scenarios, scripted dialog and monologues, and other writings in process. The collection illustrates writing and research processes of a playwright, teaching playwriting, and some aspects of the business and financial sides of the life of a working artist; it also includes personal correspondence and family documents used as source materials for dramatic pieces, and internal and administrative documents of an ethnic theater arts organization.

Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open to researchers. Please contact the Fales Library and Special Collections,, 212-998-2596.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright (or related rights to publicity and privacy) for materials in this collection was not transferred to New York University. Permission to use materials must be secured from the copyright holder. Please contact the Fales Library and Special Collections,, 212-998-2596.

Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form:

Identification of item, date (if known); Maria Irene Fornés Papers; MSS 413; box number; folder number; Fales Library and Special Collections, New York University Libraries.

Custodial History

Circa 2006 the papers were gathered and moved from Irene Fornés' apartment to the offices of Eduardo Machado at New York University; they were then transferred to the offices of PAJ--A Journal of Performance and Art in approximately 2008. In October 2014, the papers were donated by Bonnie Marranca, editor of PAJ, on behalf of the journal.


Duplicate clippings and documents from the same folders as originals have been discarded. A video recording of D.W. Griffiths' Broken Blossoms was removed from the files for Enter the Night in Series 1 and deaccessioned. Published books found within research files in Series I were also removed for deaccession.

Separated Materials

No materials have been separated from this collection.

Related Materials

Judson Memorial Church Archive (MSS 094)


The following materials were drawn upon for the Biographical Note in this finding aid.

Als, Hilton. "The Plays Of Maria Irene Fornés At INTAR." The New Yorker (March 22 2010). Retrieved from on June 23, 2015.
Black, Rosie. "Enter the Night: Lush Poetry."The Stranger, Seattle, Washington (April 26-May 2, 1993).
Cummings, Scott T. Maria Irene Fornés. London and New York: Routledge, 2013.
Downey, Roger. "Theater of the Superb." Seattle Weekly, Seattle, Washington (April 28, 1993).
Harrington, Stephanie. "Irene Fornés, Playwright: Alice and the Red Queen." Village Voice, New York, New York (April 21, 1966), pp.33-34.
Kelly, Kevin. "A Dramatic and Visual Knockout from Trinity Rep." The Boston Globe, Boston, Massachusetts (January 13, 1990).
Kozinn, Allan. "Theater World Friends Bring Ailing Playwright Closer to Home." The New York Times. Retrieved from on July 1, 2015.
Obejas, Achy. "María Irene Fornés returns to NYC but custody struggle continues." Achy Objejas. WBEZ91.5 (Chicago Public Radio), 2 February 2013. Web. June 23, 2015.
Wetzsteon, Ross. "A Different Light: The First Annual Dionysia Festival." Village Voice, New York, New York (August 11, 1992).

Collection processed by

Erika Gottfried

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2024-02-06 14:23:13 -0500.
Using Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language: Description is in English

Processing Information

All materials in this collection have been re-foldered and re-boxed into archival containers. Wherever discernible, the collection's arrangement as received was maintained and augmented. Wherever possible, original folder titles have been retained by the archivist.

Floppy disks were forensically imaged and analyzed.


Fales Library and Special Collections
Fales Library and Special Collections
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
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2nd Floor
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