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Christopher Cox papers

Call Number: YCAL MSS 264

Scope and Contents

The Christopher Cox Papers consists of the writings, correspondence files, and personal papers of the writer, director, and producer Christopher Cox, and of his partner, the art historian William Olander. A typed list titled "File Cabinets (Drawers Needed)," now in the Series III folder Miscellaneous notes (Box 23, Folder 402) suggests Cox's home office filing arrangement and takes into account a large part of the material now present in the collection: Cox's correspondence files; personal and family papers spanning his lifetime; his writings and theatrical work; and documentation of the positions he held with Virgil Thomson and the Joseph Jefferson Theatre Company. The list also reveals that what is not present in the collection are the accomplishments for which he is most noted: there are no files for his book A Key West Companion (1983); there only two examples of his published articles; and there is little evidence of his career as a photographer beyond a folder of photo orders (Box 10, Folder 205) and the credited images that appear in publications of authors such as Edmund White. However, with its highly descriptive homoerotic writings and visual material, the collection is a rich primary source for chronicling gay culture, lifestyles, and literature in New York during the 1970s and 1980s, as well as Off Off-Broadway theatre in the 1970s.

Perhaps as a holdover from his time as a secretary to Virgil Thomson, Cox kept most of his papers neatly filed in manila folders, many with typed paper labels. This is particularly true for the pre-1983 material; for years afterward, most of the papers and correspondence were not in any discernable order, and were not received in file folders. For the most part, Cox's file titles have been retained, though the current series arrangement was instituted when the collection was processed in 2007.


  • 1927 - 1990
  • Majority of material found within 1966 - 1990


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Box 47 (audiocassettes): Restricted fragile material. Reference copies may be requested. Consult Access Services for further information.

Box 47 (computer disk): Restricted fragile material. Reference copies of electronic files may be requested. Consult Access Services for further information.

Conditions Governing Use

The Christopher Cox Papers is the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Nancy Cox, 1993 and 1994.


The collection is organized into eight series: Series I. Correspondence (1963-1990, undated); Series II. Creative Work (1969-1989, undated); Series III. Personal Papers (1935-1990, undated); Series IV. Virgil Thomson Files (1947-1984, undated); Series V. Joseph Jefferson Theatre Company Files (1965-1978, undated); Series VI. Subject Files (1927-1989, undated); Series VII. Writings of Others (circa 1949-1987, undated); and Series VIII. William Olander Papers (1968-1989, undated).


20.73 Linear Feet (47 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The Christopher Cox Papers consists of the writings, correspondence files, and personal papers of the editor, author, actor, director, and producer Christopher Cox, and of his partner, the art historian William Olander.

Christopher Cox (1949-1990)

Christopher Cox (1949-1990), an editor, author, actor, director, and producer, was born August 27, 1949, in Gadsden, Alabama, to Howard R. Cox, a prominent banker, and Dorothy Trusler Cox. His birth name was Howard Raymond Cox Jr., and his family and childhood friends called him Ray throughout his life. He graduated from Emma Sansom High School, as did his brother Timothy, and sisters Carol and Nancy.

In 1966, at age 16, Cox took a summer job in Washington as a page for Alabama's senator John Sparkman, and then returned to the city the summer after high school to work for two representatives, Armistead Selden and George Andrews. He attended the University of Alabama in Birmingham for two years, where he became involved in college dramatics. Dropping out at the end of his sophomore year, Cox moved to New York in hopes of a career in the theatre and never returned to college (although he did list a 1969 BA from the University of Alabama on some of his resumes). His first role was an understudy for the Mute in The Fantasticks, which he said was the only role open to him because of his Southern accent. It is not clear whether he achieved further study in theater, but ephemera in Series III, Personal Papers, indicates that he took classes at the HB Studio in New York in the fall of 1969.

Cox took Christopher as his professional name in 1970, he wrote to his friend Steven Beil, because when he went to join the Actors' Equity labor union there was a Ray Cox already enrolled. His life in the theatre included performing, directing, and writing both plays and lyrics. His primary contribution was as director of the New Play Series and the Writers Workshop at the Joseph Jefferson Theatre Company, where he produced a dozen works by young playwrights between 1974 and 1976. He performed in both Broadway and Off-Broadway shows through the 1970s before turning more to writing, editing, and photography in the 1980s. In the last decade of his life, Cox worked for publishing houses, primarily E.P. Dutton and Ballantine, and wrote freelance articles and reviews for the Soho Weekly News (published between 1974 and 1982) and other papers and magazines. His book, A Key West Companion, was issued by St. Martin's Press in 1983, and his short study of photographer Dorothea Lange was published by Aperture in 1987.

Cox was affiliated with a literary group known as the Violet Quill (or, as he wrote in his diary on March 31, 1980, the Lavender Quill), whose seven members, men writing for men, are regarded as one of the strongest collective voices of the gay male experience in the post-Stonewall era. Authors Robert Ferro, Michael Grumley, Andrew Holleran, Felice Picano, Edmund White, George Whitmore, and Cox, met several times in 1979, 1980, and 1981 to read aloud from and discuss their works in progress, as well as those by their friends. Also on their agenda were discussions of how they could work together to promote recognition, acceptance, and publication of gay literature beyond the boundaries of their own community. Within ten years Ferro, Grumley, and Whitmore had died from AIDS-related complications, as did Christopher Cox on September 7, 1990. He was 41 years of age.

Though he left Alabama in 1969, the place and the people were never far from Cox's mind, and both regularly appear as central motifs in his stories. The early deaths of his uncle Roy (by suicide in 1956) and his mother (from cancer in 1975) were also significant events in his life and became focal points in his writings. One important job that Cox held was as a secretary to composer Virgil Thomson, from March 1975 through 1977. In his position, he arranged and cataloged Thomson's correspondence and music manuscripts prior to their transfer to Yale University; in turn, the job gave him immediate access to the people in Thomson's circle, and to his neighbors in the Chelsea Hotel where Cox would eventually live as well. Thomson composed his portrait, "Christopher Cox: Singing a Song," in 1981.

In his script for "Neurotic Moon," a 1978 video piece, Cox described the job of Christopher, his main character, as a secretary for "an old, established and famous composer assembling the man's correspondence and musical manuscripts for donation to a large library." About Christopher, he wrote, "What he is doing is putting together the pieces of this man's life while his life is falling to pieces." The number of semi-autobiographical (and outright autobiographical) writings that Christopher Cox left at his death, nearly all of which were incomplete and unpublished, reveal that though many pieces of his life were complex and difficult, they were also an asset as a resource from which he drew to write openly about the gay community, as well as the world he left behind in the South.

William R. Olander (1950-1989)

William R. Olander (1950-1989), the partner of Christopher Cox, was an art historian, museum curator, and critic. Born in Virginia, Minnesota, on July 14, 1950, he attended Northwestern University, where he studied with Jack Burnham, and received a Ph.D. in art history from New York University's Institute of Fine Arts in 1983. His dissertation, Pour Transmettre A? La Poste?rite?: French Painting and Revolution, 1774-1795, was guided by the noted art historian Robert Rosenblum. After internships at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Toledo Museum of Art, Olander was appointed curator of modern art at the Allen Memorial Museum at Oberlin College; he held that position from 1979 to 1984, and served as the museum's acting director in his last two years there. On January 1, 1985, he became curator at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, and met Christopher Cox in the spring of 1986. Olander was senior curator at the New Museum when he died from AIDS-related complications on March 18, 1989. An obituary and papers related his memorial service and the William Olander Fund at the New Museum are in Series I, Box 5, folder 113.

In addition to organizing exhibitions at both museums during his years there, Olander served as a guest curator, juror, or catalogue essayist for shows in many other venues. Among his exhibitions were the Allen Memorial Museum's New Voices series: 6 Photographers (1981) and Women and the Media: New Video (1984); Drawings: After Photography (circulated by Independent Curators Incorporated, 1984); Fake (The New Museum, 1987); and retrospectives of the work of artists May Stevens (New Museum, 1988), Edgar Franceschi (El Museo Del Barrio, 1988), and Janet Cooling (Beacon Street Gallery, Chicago, 1989). He wrote, as well, numerous exhibition and book reviews, and presented papers at academic institutions and conferences on the topics of French painting, new media, photography, and postmodern theory. Particularly interested the work of women and other marginalized artists, Olander often incorporated social and political statements, performance art, video, film, and photography into his exhibition programs.

William Olander is probably best remembered for his activist work within the art world, particularly for his invitation to the collectivist organization ACT UP/NY (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, New York) to fill the main show window of the New Museum's building at 583 Broadway. Unveiled on November 20, 1987, the landmark installation is known as "Let the Record Show…," after Olander's statement in the accompanying brochure: "Let the record show that there are many in the community of art and artists who chose not to be silent in the 1980s." The display incorporated a bold neon sign stating "SILENCE = DEATH," which brought the group's slogan to a wider public awareness.

Guide to the Christopher Cox Papers
by Sandra Markham
September 2007
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

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