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Bonnie Lee Moss Rattner Papers

Identifier: UP001725

Scope and Content

The Bonnie Lee Moss Rattner Papers contain clippings, correspondence, articles, address lists, scripts and miscellaneous material pertaining primarily to Rattner's "To Gleam It Around, To Show My Shine," a two-act play based on the novel "Their Eyes Were Watching God," by Zora Neale Hurston. Scripts from other plays by Rattner are included. Personal materials include resumes, awards, articles and writings. Among the subjects covered in the collection are African-American literature, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, grant proposals, production rights, Wayne State University, playwriting and productions for the stage.

Important subjects in the collection: Adaptation of Previously Published Literature. African-American Literature. Stage Production. Copyright and Publishing Rights. Grant Writing. Music. Screenplays. Women’s Literature.

Important correspondents in the collection: Phillip Hayes Dean. Ruby Dee. Robert Nederlander. Otis M. Smith.


  • 1961 - 2015


Language of Materials

Materials entirely in English.


Collection is open for research.


Refer to the Walter P. Reuther Library Rules for Use of Archival Materials.


Bonnie Lee Moss Rattner, born in 1940 in Detroit, earned a bachelor's degree in English education from Wayne State University in 1962 and then studied briefly at Paris's Sorbonne University and at the University of Michigan before beginning a career as a secondary school English teacher and mother. She returned to Wayne State University in 1965 to undertake graduate studies, which culminated with a Master of Arts degree in English in 1979.

In 1978, Rattner discovered Zora Neale Hurston's novel "Their Eyes Were Watching God," which she described as a life-changing experience. She decided to write an adaptation of the novel, which she initially titled "Eatonville," as her master's thesis project under the guidance of Wayne State University Professor L. Todd Duncan.

Rattner then spent several years in an effort to obtain the stage rights for the novel. Re-titled "To Gleam It Around, To Show My Shine," the play was first performed for the public in 1983 at Wayne State University's Hilberry Theater.

Rattner devoted herself to convincing producers across the country to stage the play, which she referred to as her "second child," and she met with resounding success. "To Gleam It Around, To Show My Shine" was staged in New York at the Richard Allen Center in 1985, at Harlem's Center for Cultural Research and at the Alliance Theater for the Atlanta New Play Project in 1986. Rattner's play received an award from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Fund for New American Plays in 1987, resulting in a 1988 production at the Crossroads Theater in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Along with "Their Eyes Were Watching God," Rattner obtained the rights to Hurston's "Of Mules and Men," which she adapted as "Light of Diamonds." A portion of that adaptation was performed in 1983 at Howard University by Ruby Dee.

Throughout her career as a writer, Rattner was deeply involved with seeing that worthy African-American literature obtained wider recognition. Rattner co-wrote an adaptation of Langston Hughes's "Not Without Laughter." She also became co-producer of "Asinamali," a musical that opened on Broadway in 1987, and she sought wider recognition for the work of Phillip Hayes Dean, whose plays "Robeson" and "Freedman" obtained international success. In the 1990s, Rattner and Duncan began working on a book about the life of former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Otis M. Smith, the state's first Black Supreme Court Justice. She also worked as a teacher and freelance writer, writing numerous articles for publications such as "The Michigan Alumnus," "Michigan Magazine" and "The Detroit News." In 2001, Rattner was commissioned by the Michigan Opera Theater to write the libretto for an opera commemorating the 300th anniversary of the founding of Detroit.


7 Linear Feet (4 SB, 1 OS)


Bonnie Lee Moss Rattner wrote a stage adaptation of Zora Neale Hurston's novel, "Their Eyes Were Watching God," as her master's thesis while earning a Master of Arts degree in English at Wayne State University. After obtaining the stage rights for the novel, the play "To Gleam It Around, To Show My Shine" was first performed in 1983 at Wayne State's Hilberry Theater. "To Gleam" and other works by Rattner have been produced in several theaters, mostly on the East Coast. Rattner worked as an advocate for African-American literature, particularly the work of Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes and Phillip Hayes Dean. Her papers include multiple versions of her plays' scripts, as well as material reflecting her efforts as an advocate of African-American culture and providing insight into the process of writing and producing theatrical productions. Rattner's other journalistic and academic writings are included as well.

Arrangement of the Records

The collection is made up of two parts. Folders are listed by their location within each box, so any given subject may be dispersed throughout the collection.


The papers of Bonnie Lee Moss Rattner were placed in the Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs in 1998 by Bonnie Rattner. Materials comprising Part 2 were donated by Rattner in February 2019.

Processing History

Finding aid written by Walter P. Reuther Library in 2006. Edited and revised to include Part 2 in 2021.
Guide to the Bonnie Lee Moss Rattner Papers
Processed by Walter P. Reuther Library.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Revision Statements

  • 2021-01-28: Addition of Part 2 (Box 5)

Repository Details

Part of the Walter P. Reuther Library Repository

5401 Cass Avenue
Detroit MI 48202 USA