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Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

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Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.

Pulitzer Pride: Gwendolyn Brooks in the Kansas Collection

April 8th, 2020

You are a very dear person indeed to think of me and the word Pulitzer within the same moment. I was amazed to read your letter. It must be every verse-writer’s dream to be considered, some day, for such an honor – but, to say nothing of other poets, this has been a ROBERT FROST year.

–Letter from Gwendolyn Brooks to Van Allen Bradley, April 21, 1950, Call #: RH MS 152:A:1

This year marks the 70th anniversary of Gwendolyn Brooks’s 1950 Pulitzer Prize win for her volume of poetry Annie Allen (1949). Illinois justly claims Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000) as one of the state’s most-celebrated literary citizens. Her first collection of verse, A Street in Bronzeville (1945), offered portraits of life in Chicago’s South Side, where Brooks grew up and lived, and she would return to that setting across many of her works. She also served as Illinois’s poet laureate from 1968 until her death in 2000. However, Kansans are quick to remember that Brooks also had ties to the sunflower state. She was born in Topeka in 1917, before she moved a month later with her Kansan parents two states to the east. Spencer Research Library’s Kansas Collection holds first editions of many of Brooks’s books, particularly her early ones, and although her papers reside at the University of California Berkeley and the University of Illinois, Spencer houses a small but significant collection of the poet’s correspondence with Van Allen Bradley (1913-1984). Bradley served as literary editor of the Chicago Daily News, and Brooks occasionally wrote book reviews for the newspaper. Though her relationship with it wasn’t as longstanding or deep as with the Chicago Defender, the influential African American newspaper that combated segregation and racial injustice, several of the letters with Bradley in Spencer’s collection offer insight into her 1950 Pulitzer win. 

Dust Jacket of Annie Allen by Gwendolyn Brooks. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1949.
Brooks, Gwendolyn. Annie Allen. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1949. Image courtesy of The Pulitzer Prizes website. Kenneth Spencer Research Library copy at call #: RH B1594.

On April 19, 1950, Van Allen Bradley wrote to Brooks, 

I have just tried to call you at the South Side Community Art Center [where Brooks worked as a part-time director’s assistant] but got no answer there. 

What prompted it was this –

The Saturday Review asked for my Pulitzer choices, and it occurred to me that you are going to win the Pulitzer prize for poetry.  Nice thought, isn’t it!  Seriously, I hope you do – and I have you as my choice.

But what I am writing about is this –

Suppose you were to win it: We’d want to carry a story about you, who you are, what you have written, etc. etc.  A profile no less.  And I’d like to write the piece. I wonder if you can supply me – at the earliest moment possible – with the relevant detail: all facts, a biography in brief, your likes and dislikes, your life, your family, etc. etc. […]

Carbon copy of lettter from letter from Van Allen Bradley to Gwendolyn Brooks, April 19, 1950, speculating that she may win the Pulitzer prize and requesting that she send biographical information for a profile
Carbon copy of letter from Van Allen Bradley to Gwendolyn Brooks, April 19, 1950, speculating about her possible Pulitzer win. Gwendolyn Brooks Correspondence Collection. Call #: RH MS 152 A1. Click image to enlarge.

Bradley’s Pulitzer speculation was not the first awards attention directed at poems from Brooks’s second collection. In November of 1949, Brooks had closed a letter to Bradley with good news. “Guess what:” she wrote, “I won a prize from Poetry Magazine this month – The Eunice Tietjens Memorial Prize of one hundred dollars!” The award honored “a poem or a group of poems by an American citizen published in Poetry,” and Brooks had won it for “Four poems” published in the magazine’s March issue (three sonnets from the sequence “The Children of the Poor” and the poem “A Light and Diplomatic Bird,” all also included in Annie Allen).

Even with that win under her belt, Brooks’s response to Bradley’s Pulitzer speculation was modest. In the remark quoted at the beginning of this post, she ventured that the prize would go instead to Robert Frost. “I’ll never forget that with all of the other poets to choose from, you voted for me,” she wrote to Bradley, “Thank you; thank you!” 

Detail from the beginning of a letter from Gwendolyn Brooks to Van Allen Bradley, April 21, 1950, in which she thanks Bradley for recommending her for the Pulitzer but notes that "this has been a Robert Frost year."
The beginning of a letter from Gwendolyn Brooks to Van Allen Bradley, April 21, 1950. Gwendolyn Brooks Correspondence Collection. Call #: RH MS 152 A1. Click image to enlarge.

While 1949 had been a banner year for Frost—it saw the publication of his Complete Poems and his 75th birthday—the 1950 Pulitzer Advisory Committee was interested in celebrating fresh work rather than past glory. It marveled at the achievement of Frost’s career-spanning collection, but noted he had been awarded the Pulitzer four times previously for essentially the same poems. “A further ‘honor’ to Frost would be not only superfluous but so repetitious as to seem silly,” commented poet and committee member Louis Untermeyer.[i] In Annie Allen, however, the committee saw “a volume of great originality, real distinction and high value as a book, as well as poetry.”[ii] Committee member Alfred Kreymborg commended Brooks’s volume as introducing “further characters out of her South Side background, with Annie herself as the central figure with her peregrinations from childhood through girlhood to womanhood.” He singled out for particular praise The Anniad, “whose title” he wrote, “deftly parodies The Aeneid and whose intellectual sweep over common experience is not only brilliant but profound in its tragic and tragicomic implications.”[iii]

In spite of her assertion that it would be Frost’s year, Brooks nevertheless sent along a biography to Van Allen Bradley with her letter of April 21st. Ten days later, on May 1, 1950, she made history. Annie Allen took that year’s prize for poetry and Gwendolyn Brooks became the first African American writer to win a Pulitzer. “I am a very fortunate person, and can’t help but wonder what tragedy is about to befall me, as a sort of ‘compensation,'” she wrote to Bradley on May 6th.

Closing of letter dated May 6, 1950 from Gwendolyn Brooks to Van Allen Bradley following her Pulitzer win, discussing her sense of disbelief.
“I am just beginning to believe it really happened”: Closing of letter from Gwendolyn Brooks to Van Allen Bradley following her Pulitzer win, May 6, 1950. Gwendolyn Brooks Correspondence Collection. Call #: RH MS 152 A1. Click image to enlarge.

The brief two-page (auto)biography that Brooks sent to Bradley on the eve of her win is worth reading in its entirety. We encourage you to come in and examine it (alongside other Brooks materials) once the danger of coronavirus subsides and our reading room re-opens or to submit a remote reference request. Typed on South Side Community Art Center letterhead, Brooks begins her biography with a recognition of her familial ties to Kansas.

Detail from the beginning of a biography of Gwendolyn Brooks that Brooks enclosed with a letter to Van Allen Bradley dated, April 21, 1950, providing information about her birth and Kansas Roots
Kansas roots: The beginning of a biography Gwendolyn Brooks sent to Van Allen Bradley with her letter dated, April 21, 1950. Gwendolyn Brooks Correspondence Collection. Call#: RH MS 152 B3. Click image to enlarge.

After providing further biographical details and information on her family, schooling, career, past honors, and projected future publications, the thirty-three-year-old Brooks, with a mix of good humor and commitment, offers up a brief account of her literary start. She also provides, in response to Bradley’s request, her likes (“Country peace, fresh air, elbow room, affectionate friends, book-stores, music, modern art, looking at other people’s beautiful houses, strawberries in rich, cold cream, orange pie, apricot pie”) and dislikes (“cruelty and confusion”). She then concludes her biography with one final self-effacing but playful detail: “Date of death from shock: The day I win a Pulitzer prize.”

Detail from the end of a biography of Gwendolyn Brooks that Brooks enclosed with a letter dated, April 21, 1950, detailing her early literary life, likes and dislikes.
Likes and dislikes on the eve of the Pulitzer Prize: Detail from the end of the biography Brooks enclosed with her letter to Van Allen Bradley, April 21, 1950. Gwendolyn Brooks Correspondence Collection. Call#: RH MS 152 B3. Click image to enlarge.

As we mark National Poetry Month during a time of social distancing, we encourage you to explore Brooks and her Pulitzer-winning volume Annie Allen through some of the numerous resources available online:

  • Several poems by Gwendolyn Brooks, including “The Rites for Cousin Vit” from Annie Allen, are available online at Poetry Foundation.  There you’ll also find back issues of Poetry Magazine, including the March 1949 issue containing the four poems from Annie Allen that earned Brooks the Eunice Tietjens Memorial Prize.
  • Listen to Gwendolyn Brooks read her own poetry in a recording made on January 19, 1961 for the Library of Congress’ Archive of Recorded Poetry And Literature at  Brooks’s reading includes poems from Annie Allen starting at the 11:55 minute mark, including “The Rites for Cousin Vit” (at 19:24), as well as several of her other best-known poems, such as “Kitchenette Building” (at 0:34) from A Street in Bronzeville (1945) and “We Real Cool” (at 22:50) from The Bean Eaters (1960).
  • Finally, commemorate Brooks’s Pulitzer Prize win and her Kansas roots with this trading card produced in 2016 by the Kansas State Historical Society.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

[i] Remarks by Louis Untermeyer, quoted in a letter from Henry Seidel Canby to Dean Carl W. Ackerman, Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University, on behalf of the Pulitzer committee—Henry Seidel Canby, Alfred Kreymborg, and Louis Untermeyer, [1950]. Reproduced in “Frost? Williams? No, Gwendolyn Brooks.” The Pulitzer Prizes. Accessed 6 April 2020.

[ii] Letter from Henry Seidel Canby to Dean Carl W. Ackerman, Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University, on behalf of the Pulitzer committee—Henry Seidel Canby, Alfred Kreymborg, and Louis Untermeyer, [1950]. Reproduced in “Frost? Williams? No, Gwendolyn Brooks.” The Pulitzer Prizes. Accessed 6 April 2020.

[iii] Remarks by Alfred Kreymborg quoted in ibid.

Banned Books Week: The Well of Loneliness

September 28th, 2018

It’s the end of September, which means that it’s Banned Books Week (this year, September 23-29th), an annual celebration of the freedom to read.  Among the most frequently challenged books in recent years have been ones that include LGBTQ content or themes, such as same-sex relationships or issues surrounding gender identity. (Four of the 2017 and five of the 2016 top ten most challenged books, as compiled by the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, were challenged in part for LGBTQ subject matter.)  With this in mind, today we feature a typescript from Spencer’s collections for a novel that stands as a landmark in the history of lesbian literature and the history of censorship, Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness (1928).

The Well of Loneliness tells the story of Stephen Gordon as she struggles to find love and acceptance in a society that rejects same-sex desire. Often discussed as the first openly lesbian novel in English, The Well of Loneliness favors the term “invert” over lesbian.  The novel’s author, the British writer Radclyffe Hall, imported this word from late nineteenth and early twentieth century writings of sexologists such as Richard von Krafft-Ebing and Havelock Ellis.  Indeed, Havelock Ellis wrote a prefatory comment for Radclyffe Hall’s novel, and Spencer Research Library’s typescript copy appears to have been given by Hall to Ellis.  It includes a manuscript copy of Ellis’s introductory “comment,” and is marked “Special Copy I” in Radclyffe Hall’s hand on the title page.  Photographic portraits of both Hall and Ellis have been added to the typescript, perhaps by some later owner.

Well of Loneliness typescript title page marked "Special Copy I", with tipped in photographic portrait of Radclyffe Hall

Photograph of Radclyffe Hall pasted next to the title page of a typescript of her novel The Well of Loneliness. England, approximately 1928. Call #: MS D45. Click image to enlarge.

Hall intended her novel as both a work of art and a means of gaining sympathy and recognition for same-sex love.  In his introductory comment, Havelock Ellis writes,

So far as I know, it is the first English novel which presents, in a completely faithful and uncompromising form, one particular aspect of sexual life as it exists among us to-day. The relation of certain people—who, while different from their fellow human beings, are sometimes of the highest character and finest aptitudes—to the often hostile society in which they move presents difficult and still unsolved problems.  The poignant situations which thus arise here are set forth so vividly, and yet with such complete absence of offence, that we must place Radclyffe Hall’s book on a high level of distinction.

Manuscript of Havelock Ellis's prefatory "commentary" with pasted facing page gelatin print of Havelock Ellis

Havelock Ellis’s prefatory “commentary,” with photograph of Ellis in the first volume of a typescript for Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness. England, approximately 1928. Call #: MS D45. Click image to enlarge.

Ellis’s careful allusion to the “complete absence of offense,” however, did not convince all readers. Though The Well of Loneliness contains no sexually explicit scenes, its subject matter and its insistence on the humanity of its queer characters inspired controversy upon its release in 1928.  James Douglas, the editor of the tabloid newspaper the Sunday Express, published an article in which he famously and bombastically asserted that he “would rather give a healthy boy or a healthy girl a phial of prussic acid” than Radclyffe Hall’s novel. “Poison kills the body but moral poison kills the soul, Douglas wrote as he called upon the government to take action to suppress the book.  At the urging of England’s Home Secretary, the novel’s publisher, Jonathan Cape, withdrew it from sale.  However, Cape also arranged to have the printing molds sent to the Pegasus Press in Paris, with the plan of importing copies.  When those copies of the novel were brought back into the UK from France, both Cape and the London bookseller involved, Leonard Hill, were charged under the Obscene Publications Act of 1857.  Following a trial, Chief Magistrate Chartres Biron ordered copies of the novel be destroyed, and The Well of Loneliness was not republished in the United Kingdom until 1949.

Across the ocean, the novel fared better. John Sumner of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice lodged a complaint against the American publisher of The Well of Loneliness, Covici-Friede.  But ultimately, attorney Morris L. Ernst succeeded in defending Friede against the charge of possessing and selling an obscene book.  A victory edition of the novel was released in the U. S., and the controversy that had surrounded it fueled its sales.

The corrected typescript at Spencer Research Library gives insight into Radclyffe Hall’s process in writing and revising the novel, and it includes emendations in at least two hands. Though some of the deletions remain difficult to read, others can be seen through the black ink and blue crayon used in the editing process (click on the images below to enlarge them).  For example, in a scene in which Stephen and her mother argue over the disclosure of young Stephen’s love for the married Angela Crossby, we see that Hall has edited down some of Stephen’s more vocal justifications of her love.

The Well of Loneliness typescript p. 348 with deleted passages and manuscript emendations

Deletions on p. 348 of a typescript for Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness. England, approximately 1928. Call #: MS D45. Click image to enlarge.

The blacked out lines in the passage above read “I loved with my body and mind and spirit” and “My love was not vile, it was the finest thing in me.”   The succeeding lines, which Hall leaves untouched, suggest how the author’s depiction of Stephen’s “inversion” is inflected with elements of what we now call transgender identity.  Stephen explains to her mother, “If I loved her the way a man loves a woman, it’s because I can’t feel that I am a woman. All my life I’ve never felt a woman and you know it —.“

On the following page, Hall also deletes a line in which Stephen invokes God in explaining her love.  “I’m not ashamed of it, there’s no shame in me,” Stephen declares, and then the deleted text continues, “I glory in my love for Angela Crossby.  It was good, it is good, for all true loving must be good if you believe in God’s existence —.“

The Well of Loneliness typescript p. 349 with deleted passage.

Additional deletions on p. 349 of the typescript for Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness. England, approximately 1928. Call #: MS D45. Click image to enlarge.

The idea that same-sex love is a part of God’s creation recurs throughout the novel, as does Stephen’s anguish at being persecuted by society for it nevertheless.  Following the tragic deaths of Stephen’s two friends, Barbara and Jamie, Hall writes of Stephen, “She would clench her hands in a kind of fury. How long was this persecution to last? How long would God sit still and endure this insult offered to His creation? How long tolerate the preposterous statement that inversion was not a part of nature? For since it existed what else could it be?  All things that existed were a part of nature!”

Detail from The Well of Loneliness typescript p. 704.

Detail from The Well of Loneliness typescript p. 705.

How long was this persecution to last? Details from p. 704-705 of a typescript for Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness. England, approximately 1928. Call #: MS D45. Click images to enlarge.

2018 marks ninety years since The Well of Loneliness was first published.  In spite of its suppression for two decades in the UK and the attempt to suppress it in the US, readers and scholars continue to analyze and respond to Radclyffe Hall’s novel. We invite you to delve further into its history by exploring the “special” typescript copy, with emendations, held at the Spencer Research Library. Researchers can then compare this copy to other drafts available in the collection of papers for Hall and her partner Una Troubridge at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas.

Interested in more material related to banned books?  Take a peek at last year’s banned books week post on Spencer Library’s copy of a 1512 edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy that was expurgated at the behest of the Inquisition in Spain.  Curious about more contemporary instances of censorship and challenges to books? Read through the lists of the top 10 most frequently challenged books for each year since 2001.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

Brian Aldiss, 1925-2017

August 31st, 2017

On August 19th, science fiction writer and critic Brian Aldiss died, a day after turning 92. In an obituary for The Guardian, fellow writer Christopher Priest characterized Aldiss as “by a long chalk the premier British science fiction writer.” As fans and scholars of speculative fiction around the world mourn this loss, some will be surprised to discover that part of the British writer’s literary legacy resides in Kansas: the Spencer Research Library a holds significant collection of papers for Aldiss, including materials for his Billion Year Spree and his Helliconia Trilogy. The trilogy, which consists of the novels Helliconia Spring (1982), Helliconia Summer (1983), and Helliconia Winter (1985), is among Aldiss’s most admired works. “This depiction of a world that circles a double star, where an orbital Great Year lasts long enough for cultures to emerge, prosper and fail,” Priest writes in his remembrance of Aldiss, “is a subtle, deeply researched and intellectually rigorous work.”

Brian Aldiss accepting the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Helliconia Spring, Lawrence, KS, 1983.

Brian Aldiss accepting the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best science fiction novel for Helliconia Spring (1982) in Lawrence, KS in 1983.  Call number: RG 0/19: Aldiss, Brian

The collection of Aldiss’s papers at KU provides a wealth of evidence for the research and rigor that went into his writings. The 25 boxes of materials for the Helliconia Trilogy include, for example, Aldiss’s extensive correspondence with scientists and scholars to determine the scientific basis for the world he was creating. Those consulted include Iain Nicholson of Hatfield Polytechnic Observatory on the subject of astronomy, Peter Cattermole of the University of Sheffield on geology and climate, and Tom Shippey, then at the University of Leeds, on the languages of the novel. The result is a world  striking in its attention to detail.

A selection of research Correspondence for the Helliconia Trilogy.

A selection of research correspondence with Iain Nicholson, Peter Cattermole, and Tom Shippey concerning the creation of Helliconia. Brian Wilson Aldiss Papers. Call #: MS 214: A.

Not only do these letters reveal the extent to which technical and scientific matters underpin the trilogy’s concept, plot, and themes, but they also offer lighter moments of humor between on-going collaborators. Aldiss, for example, begins a June 1981 letter to Cattermole by quipping, “Helliconian scholars have failed to study Helliconia’s sister planets in any depth; they have been too busy drinking the whisky out of their orrerys.” (MS 214:Aa:2:14a).  Writing again to Cattermole in September of 1982, following the publication of Helliconia Spring earlier that February, Aldiss reports,

Vol. 1 has been very well received, especially in the States; over here there were complaints, as you say, about names. Well, it’s no good building up an intense winter atmosphere in Embruddock and then call[ing] the sods Joe and Charlie. There will be more complaints of that nature with Vol II, where I have a vast character list, with over fifty speaking parts, but I see no way of evading the problem and so forge on hopefully.  Wait till you meet Queen MyrdalemInggala….. (MS 214Aa:2:16b)

Spencer Research Library’s collections also include manuscript materials for Aldiss’s groundbreaking Billion Year Spree (1973)subtitled “The True History of Science Fiction,” which he later expanded with David Wingrove into Trillion Year Spree (1986). The volume argues for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) as the birth of science fiction.

Aldiss’s ties to the University of Kansas grew out of his relationship with fellow science fiction writer and critic, James Gunn, Professor Emeritus of English and the founder of KU’s Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction. “We were long-time friends, although an ocean between us limited our encounters,” Gunn explains.

I was a guest in his Oxford home for a couple of days after the founding of World SF in Ireland [in 1976], and he was a guest in my home during his author’s visit here.  We were competitors only in the writing of science-fiction histories.  We both started in 1971, but circumstances (and maybe the complexities of illustrations) held up Alternate Worlds (1975) [Gunn’s illustrated history of SF] for a couple of years.  When I wrote him for a photograph, he suggested that we exchange blurbs–that I would say his history was the best and he would do the same for mine.

Though the delay in the publication of Gunn’s Alternate Worlds meant that the exchange of blurbs never came to pass, researchers can explore both Aldiss’s and Gunn’s processes in writing their respective histories of science fiction by examining the collections of their papers at Spencer Research Library.

Cover of Brian Aldiss's Billion Year Spree (1974 paperback edition)  Cover of James Gunn's Alternate Worlds (1975)

Left: Brian Aldiss’s Billion Year Spree (1973). Schocken paperback edition, second printing. New York: Schocken Books, 1975. Call #: ASF B1245. Right: James Gunn’s Alternate Worlds. First edition. Englewood Cliffs, N.J : Prentice-Hall, 1975. Call #: E2598.

In his introduction to Billion Year Spree, Aldiss mused, “Possibly this book will help further the day when writers who invent whole worlds are as highly valued as those who re-create the rise and fall of a movie magnate or the breaking of two hearts in a bedsitter. The invented universe, the invented time, are often so much closer to us than Hollywood or Kensington.” Thank you for those invented universes, Brian Aldiss.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

Tramping on Mount Oread: Poet Harry Kemp

April 21st, 2015

How many freshmen can boast that their arrival on campus was covered by the national press? Though neither a star athlete nor the child of a public figure, poet Harry Kemp (1883-1960) won this distinction through his knack for self-promotion. Kemp’s unconventional arrival at KU by boxcar in January of 1906 launched him from anonymity to the front page of the New York Tribune —  “TO COLLEGE UNDER FREIGHT CAR / Student Leaves New-York with 3 cents–Working Way at University of Kansas. Another headline in the Kansas City Star proclaimed Kemp a “Tramp Poet,” and the moniker stuck (though he was known as the vagabond poet and hobo poet as well). During his six years of studies at KU, Kemp immersed himself in books, built a reputation as a poet and writer, and befriended nearby William Allen White, the newsman and “Sage of Emporia.”

And as the years passed, Kemp continued to make headlines, including as the “other man” in Upton Sinclair’s divorce and for attempting  in 1913 to “tramp” to England as a stowaway aboard a steamer, something that earned him a brief stay in a British jail and further celebrity on both sides of the pond. Of course, Kemp garnered attention for his literary output as well. He published books of verse–including The Cry of Youth (1914), Chanteys and Ballads (1920), and Don Juan’s Note-book (1929)–and a bestselling semi-fictionalized memoir, Tramping on Life: An Autobiographical Narrative (1922), in which KU appears as “Laurel University” in “Laurel, Kansas.” Kemp livened up already the already lively literary circles of Greenwich Village and was associated with the Provincetown Players, electing ultimately to settle in Cape Cod.

Potrait of the KU Scoop Club, 1909, featuring Harry Kemp. Photograph of Harry Kemp circa the 1950s

Youth and Old Age: Harry Kemp (middle row, second from left) with fellow members of the Scoop Club
(for news reporters) in the 1909 Jayhawker yearbook, Call #: LD 2697.J3 1909,
and in a photograph from the the 1950s, Personal Papers of Harry Kemp. Call #: PP 75, Box 3.
Click images to enlarge.

Though Louis Untermeyer had once spoken of Kemp alongside Carl Sandburg, Vachel Lindsay, and Edgar Lee Masters, by the end of his life, the Tramp Poet’s reputation had already begun to fade. Nevertheless, Kemp continued to write and elevate his eccentricities to an art.  From his shack in Provincetown, Massachusetts, he would sign his poems (and sometimes even compose them) with a seagull feather.  In honor National Poetry Month, we remember today one of the most eccentric and free-spirited poets to emerge from KU, Harry Kemp, and share three of his poems below.

Harry Kemp's "Kansas" from Sunflowers: A Book of Kansas Poems (1914)

Kemp, Harry. “Kansas” in Sunflowers: A Book of Kansas Poems. Willard Wattles, Editor.
Lawrence, KS:  World Company, 1914. Call #: KAC C71. Click image to enlarge.

Cover of Kemp's Chantey's and Ballads (1920) "The Humming Bird" by Harry Kemp from Chanteys and Ballads (1920)

Kemp, Harry. “The Humming Bird,” from Chanteys and Ballads, Sea-chanteys, Tramp-ballads and Other
Ballads and Poems
. New York, Brentano’s [c1920]. Call #: PP 75, Box 1. Click images to enlarge.

Typescript poem ("Eight Lines, for the New Year") by Harry Kemp, with manuscript inscription.

Kemp, Harry.  “Eight Lines, For the New Year (Human Trust),” undated.
Personal Papers of Harry Kemp. Call # PP 75, Box 3. Click Image to enlarge.

For more on Harry Kemp, his poetry, and his wild life, see William Brevda’s Harry Kemp, the Last Bohemian or drop by Spencer and begin exploring his personal papers.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

William S. Burroughs’ Last Journals Come to KU Libraries

February 7th, 2014

It’s been an exciting week or two in Lawrence for scholars and fans of William S. Burroughs.  Wednesday, February 5 was the centenary of the writer’s birth, and around town events and exhibitions have been exploring his writing, art, and deep ties to Lawrence.  Burroughs made Lawrence his home during the last fifteen years of his life, and now, thanks to a gift from James Grauerholz, executor of the Burroughs estate and a KU alumnus, the influential author’s last journals will join the collections of KU Libraries.

Burroughs helped revolutionize the post-WWII literary landscape with novels like Naked Lunch and Nova Express, the latter a part of his cut-up trilogy.  To celebrate the gift, five of the ten journals will be on display in the Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s lobby through February.  These notebooks, which span from November 1996 to Burroughs’ death in August of 1997, were the basis for Last Words: The Final Journals of William S. Burroughs, a volume edited by Grauerholz and published in 2000.  In their pages we see literature, politics, art, and philosophy collide with everyday life.  A reference to speaking with an ailing friend, poet Allen Ginsberg  (“His voice over the phone from Beth Israel Hospital in NYC sounded very weak”), appears alongside a reminder to buy disposable razors.  The final entry (see below) offers a meditation on conflict and love.  To the left Burroughs has written:  “Love? What is it? / Most natural pain / killer what there is. / L O V E.”

Image of William Burroughs' last entry in one of his final journals.

William S. Burroughs’ final journal. Image courtesy of Chuck France / KU Office of Public Affairs. Click here for a larger version.

Image of display case containing five of Burroughs' last journals  Image of display case containing five of William S. Burroughs' last journals, as seen from above.

On display through February in Spencer Research Library’s lobby: five of the ten journals donated by the Burroughs estate.

In addition to the journals, the gift also includes typescripts and draft materials for the edition Grauerholz produced. Once cataloged, these “last words” of William S. Burroughs will be available for researchers and the public to consult at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library.

Elspeth Healey,
Special Collections Librarian