Deren, Maya (1917-1961)

The Maya Deren collection consists of journals and diaries, manuscripts, correspondence, printed material, professional material, financial material, photographs, audio material, film and video, and other items.

Journals and diaries by Deren include diaries dated ca. 1931 to 1936; letters written by Deren to herself (addressed “Dear Alter Ego”), a journal she kept while in Haiti (1947); a transcription of Deren’s diary by Robert Steele; and notebook pages regarding Gregory Bateson, Bali, and Haiti, ca. 1953.

Manuscripts by Deren in the collection are extensive, dating from early writings and juvenilia from the 1920s through her later writings on film from the early 1960s. Included are poems, school work (mainly college-level), fiction, short stories, non-fiction, articles for the Village Voice, essays, synopses and outlines for films, lecture notes, transcriptions of interviews with Deren, and various notes, ideas, sketches, and other writings. Especially notable are her manuscripts for An Anagram of Ideas on Art, Form and Film (1946); drafts and notes for Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti (1953); and drafts, treatments, and other writings regarding her films, including Ritual in Transfigured Time, At Land, The Very Eye of Night, Seasons of Strangers, and The Magic Flute. Also present are Deren’s translation of the novel Conquered City, by Victor Serge (1939); two poems by Stan Brakhage; and a lecture by Solomon Deren, delivered in 1938.

Correspondence in the collection consists of both personal and professional letters. The personal letters include letters between Deren and her mother, dating from 1924 to 1960; several letters from Deren to Alexander Hammid (1941); several letters between Deren and Gene Baro, from the 1950s; and letters from Deren to various individuals, including Marlon Brando, Joseph Campbell, Salvador Dali, Gregory Bateson, Dr. Max Jacobson, and others. General letters to Deren from others date from the 1930s to the 1960s. Notable correspondents include Birgit Akesson, Cecil Beaton, John Malcolm Brinnin, Andre Chastel, Janet Collins, Marcus and Mitzi Cunliffe, Graeme Ferguson, Robert Graves, Hella Heyman Hammid, Teiji Ito, Jacques Joseph d’Amboise, Leo Lerman, James Merrill, William Novik, Villa Percival, Galka Scheyer, Eda Lou Walton, and others.

Professional correspondence consists primarily of letters arranging for film screenings, lectures, or appearances by Deren at various locations and venues, dating from the 1940s to the 1960s. Also included is correspondence with various periodicals and publications; these items include letters from James Agee, Bruce Bliven, Babette Deutsch, Max Lerner, Alvin Lustig, and Gay Talese. Other letters include Deren’s application for a Guggenhiem fellowship (1944-1953), as well as other grants(1946-1960); letters regarding publicity, media, radio and television (1946-1961); letters regarding Haiti and Divine Horsemen, including letters from Margaret Mead (1948-1961); letters regarding Orbit Films, Aries Productions, Bleeker Street Cinema, Cinema 16, and other film organizations (1946-1961); fan mail; and letters regarding various other subjects.

Printed material in the collection primarily consists of items by Deren, including early writings published by Ecole Internationale (ca. 1932); published articles, reviews, and photographs; publicity items; galley proofs of Divine Horsemen; Deren’s circulating copy of An Anagram of Ideas on Art, Form, and Film; liner notes, catalogs, and publicity for the Voices of Haiti album; and other items.

Printed material about Deren includes programs, flyers, brochures, periodicals, and clippings. Other items include clippings, reviews, and advertisements collected by Deren; magazine printouts in which Deren’s photography was used; and items regarding Teiji Ito, the Creative Film Foundation, the Independent Filmmakers Association, and other material.

Professional material in the collection contains several items regarding Deren’s films, including notes, clippings, letters, shot lists and sequences, shooting sequences, story boards, soundtrack instructions, choreography plans, graphics for titles, shooting notebooks, and other items. Notable titles include Meshes of the Afternoon; At Land; Choreography for the Camera; Ritual in Transfigured Time; Meditation on Violence; The Very Eye of Night; The Magic Flute; Medusa; Witch’s Cradle; and Deren’s uncompleted Haiti / Bali project. Other professional material includes Deren’s research regarding Haiti, and documents about her Haitian recordings; distribution ledgers (1945-1951), a log book, paste-ups for brochures and flyers; sample forms and form letters for publicity distribution, lectures, and screenings; several boxes of address cards, used to track film distribution, screenings, mailings, and lectures; and other items.

Financial material in the collection primarily consists of documents regarding expenses incurred from Deren’s films, including production costs, distribution, permits, licenses, and screenings.  Also present is material regarding Divine Horsemen, Voices of Haiti, and other aspects of Deren’s work in Haiti. Other items include Deren’s medical and hospital bills; repair records for Deren’s cameras and recording equipment; and parking tickets.

Photographs in the collection are extensive, and consist primarily of black and white prints. The bulk of the prints are images from Haiti, including architecture, religious ceremonies (including Voudon ceremonies), dance, drumming, prayer, Mardi Gras, various individuals, and other subjects. Also present are prints of Deren with her family and friends, stills from At Land, Choreography for the Camera, Meditation on Violence, Meshes of the Afternoon, Private Life of a Cat, Ritual in Transfigured Time, and The Very Eye of Night. There are also prints regarding various other subjects, including Bali; fruit pickers in California (1942); art; portraits; Los Angeles; bookstores; the Cinema 16 Symposium on Poetry and Film; and others.

Audio recordings in the collection primarily pertain to Deren’s visits to Haiti. There are many reel-to-reel tapes and wire recordings of Haitian Voudon ceremonies and as well as copies of the long-playing record albums Voices of Haiti and Drums of Haiti, the latter recorded by Harold Courlander for Ethnic Folkways Library. Other recordings, include interviews with Deren, Alexander Hammid, Teiji Ito and others; lectures and workshops given by Deren; and miscellaneous recordings of music.

Film and video in the collection includes a DVD titled “Maya Deren, Take Zero” (2011) and a video cassette copy of In the Mirror of Maya Deren.

Other items in the collection include a scrapbook with clippings and other ephemera regarding Deren (1944-1947); legal material; and memorabilia, including a copy of the captain’s log recording Deren’s marriage to Teiji Ito, with a wedding announcement.

The Maya Deren collection includes the research and writing files of Robert Steele consisting of his preliminary work for a biography on Deren and a compilation of her writings. Notable items include interviews with Deren, Gregory Bardacke (Deren’s first husband), Alexander Hammid, and Teiji Ito; and correspondence with Deren and others.

Notable Figures
1. Deren, Maya
Associated Subjects
1. Women's Studies Collections -- Drama, Film, and Television Subject Guide
2. Theatre and Film Subject Guide
3. Religion and Spirituality Subject Guide
4. Dance Subject Guide
5. Photography Subject Guide
6. Helen Deutsch Research Section
7. American poetry -- 20th century.
8. Lectures and lecturing
9. American poetry -- Women authors.
10. American literature -- Women authors
11. Women photographers – United States
12. Actresses -- United States
13. Women dancers – United States
14. Ukranian Americans
15. Women authors, American
16. Motion pictures – Production and direction – United States
17. American literature--20th century
18. Women motion picture producers and directors
19. Audiotapes
20. Voodooism
21. Photographs
22. Motion pictures