Correspondence with Wallace Stevens

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 133 WST/1
  • Former Reference
      GB 133 1-106
  • Dates of Creation
      19 Dec 1941-4 Jan 1951
  • Physical Description
      106 items

Scope and Content

This first series in the archive primarily charts the creation and publication of three of Stevens' major works by the Cummington Press through correspondence: Notes toward a supreme fiction which he wrote especially for the Press; Esthetique du mal which was initially printed in the Kenyon Review in 1944; and Three academic pieces, originally published in the Partisan Review in 1947.

These letters reveal a vast amount of information about Wallace Stevens as a published poet, the process of publishing and his other literary correspondents; the working practices of the Cummington Press; the involvement of Harry Duncan, Katharine Frazier and Paul Williams and their external involvement with craftsmen. While never once referred to directly, the Second World War also has a presence of its own within the correspondence.

The content of these letters present us with a strong image of Stevens as a poet with a very business-like approach and detail the attainment of copyright from Washington, cost breakdowns of print runs and distribution, payment transactions for purchases made by Stevens and acknowledgement of receipt. Stevens consistently makes a point of paying directly for any costs at his expense so as not to hinder the Press financially. We are also provided with details of Stevens' professional relationship with the Alfred A. Knopf publishing house, who Stevens had many obligations towards and did not want to upset by working with a different company.

The letters from Stevens are rich in examples of the preferences he had for ink and paper colour. Throughout the correspondence is an ongoing mission to locate the perfect shade of creamy-yellow paper that Stevens envisioned, especially for the final pressing of Notes. While Stevens is very clear about his expectations and wishes concerning layout and materials, it is soon made evident that he placed great faith in the Press to make the necessary final decisions. The employment of skilled designers referred to within the correspondence represents the contemporary trends of illustrated poetry, illuminated lettering and presentation containers, while drawing attention to the variety of craftsmen both Harry Duncan and Stevens were aware of and in touch with. Stevens himself was in touch with many literary writers and university academics of the time whom he discusses with Harry Duncan. Reference is made to Williams Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore and lecturers at Harvard University who Stevens asks for books to be sent to. Stevens also mentions discussing the cost of printing with the diarist and erotic novelist Anaï;s Nin, which shows the broad scope of his literary contacts.

Also worthy of note is what the correspondence doesn't reveal in its content. The Second World War continued and ended throughout the ten year period this correspondence spans, yet it is never mentioned in any of the letters.

Arrangement

This correspondence has been arranged into 106 items to represent the sequence of sending and receiving; some letters stand on their own, and others are linked to replies. They are arranged chronologically to reflect not only the course of sending and receiving, but also the development of Stevens' engagement with the Press. This arrangement also places them geographically as the Press relocates and Stevens stays rooted in Hartford. Further, the letters placed in chronological order show Stevens' ongoing business relationship with Alfred A. Knopf running parallel alongside the Cummington Press.