Patience Worth, a British Puritan girl who lived and died sometime in the seventeenth century, produced a prolific four million words in the form of novels, plays, poems, prayers, and short stories. “Produced” is the best word for what she did; we certainly can't say she “wrote” them. We can't, in fact, say that Patience Worth existed at all. But neither can we comfortably say that Pearl Pollard Curran (1883–1937) wrote the material in question, though she is usually credited as its author. Between 1913 and 1937, Curran (Fig. 1), a St. Louis, Missouri, housewife, spoke these four million words aloud (often in an idiosyncratic, pseudo-Shakespearean dialect) with the aid of a Ouija board and a planchette. A series of secretaries transcribed what she said: Curran claimed that Worth was a thwarted authoress who had long been searching from beyond the grave for a suitable host and that she had selected Curran as her channel. Some of the material she (they?) generated was ultimately published with the assistance of Casper S. Yost (1863–1941), editor of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat and founder of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Intrepid librarians have cataloged this perplexing material in ways that attempt to account for its convoluted provenance: “Hope Trueblood, by Patience Worth, communicated through Mrs. John H. Curran, edited by Casper S. Yost, published by Henry Holt and Company, 1918.” Questions of authorship, ownership, and voice are central to this perplexing body of work.
Jennifer Schlueter is Assistant Professor in the Department of Theatre at The Ohio State University and joint artistic director with the for/word company. Schlueter is the 2008 recipient of ASTR's Gerald Kahan Award. Her plays North and Little Book, both created with the for/word company, will be presented in rotating rep during 4–28 October 2012, at 59E59th Theater, New York, NY. Her play about Patience Worth will be workshopped in the summer of 2012. More information is available at www.for-word-company.net.