Ruby Burman Cohn (August 13, 1922 – October 18, 2011) was a theater scholar and a leading authority on playwright Samuel Beckett. Born in 1922 in Columbus, Ohio, Cohn moved with her family to New York City, where she completed high school and graduated from Hunter College. During World War II she joined the Waves, a Navy division for women, and served as a document courier. After the war she returned to Europe and competed a doctoral degree at the University of Paris. In January 1953 while a student at the Sorbonne she attended the first public performance of En Attendant Godot (Waiting for Godot), by a then obscure Irish-born dramatist, Samuel Beckett. The play and its author became the focus of the rest of her academic life. She earned a second doctorate from Washington University in St. Louis with a dissertation on Beckett which became her first book, Samuel Beckett: The Comic Gamut (1962).
Cohn wrote or edited several other books about Beckett, including Casebook on ‘Waiting for Godot’ (1967), Back to Beckett (1974), Samuel Beckett: A Collection of Criticism (1975), Just Play: Beckett’s Theater (1980) and Disjecta: Miscellaneous Writings and a Dramatic Fragment (1984), an oeuvre that established an academic reputation not just for her deep expertise but also for her lucid, unpretentious prose.
In addition to her volumes on Beckett, Cohn wrote other books about modern American and British theater and analyses of playwrights, including artistic descendants of Beckett like Edward Albee, Harold Pinter and Caryl Churchill.
Cohn joined the Language Arts faculty of San Francisco State University in 1961 and taught until her resignation during the student strike of 1968. She joined the theater faculty of the California Institute of the Arts in 1969, and moved to the University of California, Davis in 1972. Through her scholarship she became friends with Beckett, exchanging letters and visiting each other at least annually until his death in 1989.
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Acquisition Note: Source: Gift of Ruby Cohn.
Accession number 1612, March 1981
Accession number 23901, June 1, 2006
Accession number 23902, April 1, 2007
Preferred Citation:Name of the Collection, Washington University Libraries, Department of Special Collections
Scope and Contents: The Ruby Cohn Papers consists largely of manuscripts toward published and unpublished essays and lectures on Samuel Beckett. In addition, the collection includes correspondence and manuscripts toward published and unpublished essay and lectures on modern theater and analyses of playwrights.