The Letters of Samuel Beckett

Beckett in 1977 - Bibliothèque nationale de France

After 26 years,The Letters of Samuel Beckett project's affiliation with the Laney Graduate School is complete with the publication of the fourth volume by Cambridge University Press in 2016. But its scholarship is not finished. Beginning in 2017, the Beckett project will shift to the Emory College of Arts and Sciences where the next leg of its journey will begin.

About the Project

The Letters of Samuel Beckett is the first comprehensive edition of the letters of Irish-born writer Samuel Beckett (1906-1989), providing access to primary sources now scattered in archives and private collections world-wide. Through The Letters, students, scholars, critics and theatre artists can trace the evolution of Beckett’s work with increased insight into his choices as a writer. Each volume spans critical periods of the acclaimed Irish-born writer's work. Beckett’s letters reveal a man whose life and art offer paradigms for the cross currents of the 20th century, extending the limits of fiction, drama, poetry and criticism.

From 1990, only a year after Samuel Beckett’s death, through 2016, the Laney Graduate School served as the American home of the project alongside its partner in France, the American University in Paris.  For two and half decades, the Letters project assembled a tremendous and diverse team – all with the desire to illumine the life and work of one of the most important literary figures of our time. Through the efforts of the editors, all four volumes of The Letters of Samuel Beckett - individually and collectively - have received glowing praise as a “one of the greatest editions of letters ever published.”

Continue to support The Letters of Samuel Beckett project at its new home in Emory College of Arts and Sciences.

The Beckett Project and Laney: A Brief History

In 1985, Samuel Beckett authorized founding editor Martha Dow Fehsenfeld to publish his correspondence. Lois More Overbeck was asked to join the project that same year, and from 1985 until his death in 1989, Beckett himself helped to facilitate their research through access and interviews.

In 1990, the project became affiliated with the Laney Graduate School at Emory, and, with Laney’s support, received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities as well as the Florence Gould Foundation. In 1992, the American University of Paris became a center for the edition in France. The editorial team also expanded to include George Craig and Dan Gunn.

Beckett’s correspondence is copious, totaling more than 16,000 letters. The letters, however, are scattered across the globe in both public and private collections.

For nearly 30 years, the Beckett editorial team consulted and transcribed all extant letters to make the selections included in all four volumes of “The Letters of Samuel Beckett.” The complete edition comprises letters selected for their bearing on his work, including some 2,500 letters with another 5,000 quoted in the annotations. The edition also touches on all of Beckett’s writing — published, unpublished or abandoned — including his criticism, reviews, essays on arts, descriptions of paintings that are later transposed into stage images, and observations on musical composition that inform the patterns of his prose.

Engaging Generations of Stuents

The Letters of Samuel Beckett is a treasure for scholars, artists, critics and diverse audiences who hold Beckett’s work in highest esteem. But the project has also been professionally important to graduate students who credit their involvement for developing a breadth of transferable professional skills that have continued to shape their careers.

  • “I learned about establishing relationships…. I have seen how to ask questions astutely. I have experienced how a community of scholars from different disciplines can work toward a common goal." -Laura Barlament 01G
  • “My work with ‘The Letters of Samuel Beckett’ not only helped me to develop and refine essential critical and research skills, but exposed me to a web of contacts that will be of great help to me over the course of my career." -Brian Cliff 01G
  • “The most obvious benefit I have derived from the project has been greater knowledge, skill and resourcefulness in research," she explains. "It has taught me to follow threads of information to a larger picture and to develop a key scholarly aptitude: the hunch.” -Jennifer Nesbitt 99G

Continue to support The Letters of Samuel Beckett project at its new home in Emory College of Arts and Sciences.