News | June 6, 2023

New York Public Library Acquires George C. Wolfe Archive

Billy Rose Theatre Division at the Library for the Performing Arts.

George C. Wolfe (right) working with Gregory Hines during a rehearsal for the Broadway production of the musical Jelly's Last Jam by Martha Swope, 1992.

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts has announced that the Billy Rose Theatre Division has acquired the archive of George C. Wolfe, the writer, director, and producer. The acquisition continues the Library’s mission to preserve documents of important figures who have advanced theater through the 21st century.

The archive the Library for the Performing Arts acquired consists of around 50 boxes of material. Highlights from the collection include correspondence, annotated scripts, director’s notes, and photographs.

The acquisition places Wolfe alongside the Library’s other existing archival collections, such as Hal Prince, Joseph Papp, and the Public Theater, giving researchers and future generations of artists, writers, and theater-makers a fuller picture of Wolfe and how he connects to this important theatrical history.

Wolfe began his career with off-Broadway productions. In 1986 his play The Colored Museum, a series of short, darkly comic exhibits explored facets of the Black American experience. The play premiered in New York at the Public Theatre, and played for nine months before moving to Royal Court Theatre in London and to successful commercial runs around the world.

Wolfe gained further national recognition in the US with his 1991 musical, Jelly's Last Jam, a musical about the life of Jelly Roll Morton, which received 11 Tony Award nominations, and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Book of a Musical. Wolfe was a member of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities from 2009-2017, and served as the Chief Creative Officer of the Center for Civil and Human Rights, in Atlanta. From 1993 to 2004, Wolfe served as producer at the Public Theater.

Wolfe’s work in musicals, plays, and on the screen are among the most important of the 20th century. Wolfe's groundbreaking direction of the original Broadway productions of Angels in America and Topdog/Underdog and his work on Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk changed the landscape of the American theater. More recently, he has delighted and challenged audiences with Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, his 2018 revival of The Iceman Cometh starring Denzel Washington, Bill Irwin, Austin Butler, and Tammy Blanchard, and his 2000 musical adaptation of the Joseph Moncure March poem, The Wild Party, written with Michael John LaChiusa.

Wolfe’s work extends to the screen, including films that he directed such as Lackawanna Blues, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and continues to inspire new theatrical and film productions today.

During his career, Wolfe has received 23 Tony Awards nominations, and has won five Tony Awards for his work on Angels in America in 1993, Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk in 1996 and Elaine Stritch at Liberty in 2002. In 1995 New York Landmarks Conservancy named him a “living landmark.” He received a PEN/Mike Nichols Writing For Performance Award in 2021. In 2013, he was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.

Located at Lincoln Center, the Library for the Performing Arts has one of the most extensive performing arts collections in the world. The Library is an archive of dance, theatre, music, and recorded sound, and our close to eight million archival items date back to the 11th Century and include Ludwig Beethoven’s hair, Clara Schuman’s nibbled pencils, and a 15th-century dance treatise of dance master Guglielmo d’Ebreo da Pesaro.