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Mary Caroline Richards papers, 1898-2007, bulk 1942-1999

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Richards (Mary Caroline) papers

Biographical/Historical Note

Mary Caroline ("M.C.") Richards, self-described "teacher, writer, lecturer, potter, poet," was born in 1916, and received her Ph.D. in English from the University of California at Berkeley in 1942. She taught English both at Berkeley and at the University of Chicago before joining the faculty of Black Mountain College in Asheville, North Carolina, a school that had a formative role in postwar American art in 1945. She and her husband Bill Levi became prominent members of the Black Mountain community; she in writing and literature, he in philosophy and as rector from 1947 to 1948. In 1948 Richards and her students started the Black Mountain Press which they used for literary publications and to print Richards's first volume of poetry. That same year she met the composer John Cage, who had just joined the summer faculty and who that summer produced Erik Satie's play Le Piége de Méduse, performed by Buckminster Fuller and Merce Cunningham, directed by Arthur Penn, and translated by M.C. Richards. Richards served as chair of the faculty from 1949 to 1951, participating actively in the many conflicts between various factions in administration and faculty. She was instrumental in bringing the poet Charles Olson to the faculty in 1951. He served as rector from 1953 until the college closed in 1956.

After the summer session of 1951, Richards resigned and left for New York City with pianist and Cage associate David Tudor. She returned to Black Mountain the subsequent summer to participate in an event that came to be known as the first "happening," organized by John Cage and also involving Robert Rauschenberg, Charles Olson, David Tudor, and Merce Cunningham. During her time in New York City she translated, at Tudor's suggestion, Antonin Artaud's Le Théatre et son double, which was published by Grove Press in 1958 to wide acclaim. In 1954 Richards, Tudor, and Cage, among other former Black Mountain faculty, became a part of the Stony Point community in Rockland County, New York, founded by the architect Paul Williams. In 1964, the same year she left Stony Point, her book Centering: In Pottery, Poetry and the Person was published by Wesleyan University Press, followed in 1973 by The Crossing Point: Nine Easter Letters on the Art of Education and in 1980 by Toward Wholeness: Rudolf Steiner Education in America. These books reveal a very personal view of the development of the individual through art and life and, combined with her extensive teaching and lecturing throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, were widely influential in the arts education and craft communities. Mary Caroline Richards died in 1999 in New York City.

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