John Sayles

John Sayles uses the medium of motion pictures to showcase the connection between the political and the interpersonal. He is the author of four novels and two short story collections, and has written 100 screenplays, directed 18 feature films, and received the 1983 MacArthur Fellowship.

Beginning his professional filmmaking career as a script writer for Roger Corman’s low-budget genre films, Sayles transitioned in 1980 to direct his own low-budget project: “Return of the Secaucus 7.” The film launched a new generation of American independent filmmakers and catapulted Sayles as the “godfather” of a movement. It was recognized in 1997 by the Library of Congress and placed on their National Film Registry.

For the next four decades, Sayles has written a range of films promoting progressive political ideals while avoiding propaganda. The result is a staggering array of stories built on a foundation beholden to a realistic depiction of race, class, gender, and sexuality. Among the many titles are “The Brother from Another Planet,” “Matewan,” “Eight Men Out,” “Passion Fish,” “Lone Star,” and “Honeydripper.”

men in overalls standing in a cotton field and a director pointing with his finger
Director John Sayles (pointing) on the set of his film "Honeydripper" with actor Eric L. Abrams (left), 2007.

The collection includes scripts, production documents, legal documents, photographs, storyboards, correspondence, and more. There are personal journals and notebooks, business records, and props. Also included are manuscripts of some of Sayles's novels, short stories, and plays, plus evidence of his uncredited work as a writer on such films as “Apollo 13.” Along with Maggie Renzi, his longtime life and producing partner, Sayles donated some 230 boxes of archival material spanning his entire career. 

Finding aid

Director John Sayles with headphones around his neck.

Director John Sayles, 2017. Photo courtesy of Pasatiempo.

Philip A Hallman

Film Studies Field Librarian