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American Women: Resources from the Recorded Sound Collections

Drama and Literature

Drama, literature, and poetry come alive on sound recordings where words, characters, and dramatic situations are given voice by some of the twentieth century's greatest interpreters. Many commercial recordings and archival collections feature great American women writers, poets, actors, and playwrights.

Researching Drama and Literature in the Collections

July Dawn [a poem], by Louise Bogan. 1957. Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

The most efficient way to locate plays, poetry, monologues, and literary recitations is to search by specific name of author or performer or by title of the work in the Library's online catalog and the various divisional catalogs. Occasionally, specific subject headings are assigned to literary and dramatic works, but because this is not a consistent practice, searching under broad genre headings is likely to prove more helpful.

Embedded links below will display fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog.

Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature

America's literary heritage from the past fifty years is displayed in a unique Library of Congress collection called the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature. Begun in 1943, the archive features literary readings by hundreds of poets, authors, dramatists, and actors, including countless American women. The nation's first female consultant in poetry, Louise Bogan (1897-1970), was recorded for the archive, as were Rita Dove (b. 1952), the first woman named poet laureate, Audre Lorde (1934-1992), Marianne Moore (1887-1972), Sylvia Plath (1932-1963), and Adrienne Rich (b. 1929), to name but a few.

The archive also includes dramatizations, such as a one-woman drama re-creating the life of pro-women's suffrage lecturer Anna Dickinson (1842-1932), an American folktale called Heritage about the women in Abraham Lincoln's life, and a portrait of playwright Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965) in her own words. Such programs, which the Library is still producing today, offer invaluable opportunities to hear the literary world's best women writers. The collection is searchable through the Library's online catalog by name, program title, title of literary work, and Library of Congress subject headings, such as “American drama,” “American poetry,” “monologues,” and the like.

Dramatic Recordings

Many commercial recordings held by the Library feature the work of great American actresses or women writers. Agnes Moorehead (1906-1974) interpreted prose and poetry and shared personal stories on the recording The Lavender Lady, which contains excerpts from her 1968 live show. She is also featured on several radio dramatizations for Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS), including a 1974 adaptation of King Lear. Pat Carroll (b. 1927), who is known as much for her dramatic roles as for her comedic talents, stars in the one-woman show Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein, recorded in 1980 for Caedmon. The Library holds a recorded copy of the 1987 opera Nixon in China, which has a libretto written by Alice Goodman.

Radio Dramas

A multitude of dramas produced for radio include those written expressly for radio and those that have been adapted for broadcast from other sources.The NBC series Gallant American Women (1939-40) presented historical dramas on dozens of women in all areas of accomplishment. Women as teachers, pioneer women, ladies of the press, mothers of presidents, women of letters, and women in medicine, science, nursing, and aviation are some of the topics featured. Brown Women in White is a 1949 NBC drama on black nurses. Other examples are Now Is the Time, a 1944 drama on women serving in the military, and Here's to the Family, a broadcast about mixed marriages (1949).