William Carlos Williams papers
Scope and Contents
The papers primarily document Williams’ life as a prolific writer, including drafts of prose, poetry, and drama; lectures and readings; and correspondence and writings of others that reveal his mentorship of aspiring poets and his friendships with other literary figures. The papers also reveal his personal life as a husband, father and close friend to many individuals, and his work as a doctor.
Correspondence and writings comprise the bulk of the papers. The correspondence, especially with Ezra Pound, Louis Zukofsky, James Laughlin of New Directions, John Thirlwall, and Edmund Brown of Four Seas Company, record his development as a writer and his self-reflection as his writing career developed. Among the correspondence are letters from young poets seeking Williams’s guidance and mentorship, including Allen Ginsberg, Robert Creeley, Charles Olson, and H.H. Lewis. Other correspondence regards the publication of Williams's writings. Personal correspondence illuminates Williams’s relationship with his wife and mother and his close friendships with many people, among them notable writers and artists.
Williams's writings, including poetry, fiction, drama, essays, and notes provide evidence of Williams's writing career and creative process. Drafts include holograph, typescript (often typed on his favorite fold-up typewriter), composite drafts, and notes on scrap paper and jottings on prescription pads. Versions of drafts reveal his process of working through rhythm, cadence and wording. Williams’s devotion to the development of poetry and evolving aesthetics is illuminated in his writings, his annotations on writings of others, and clippings and printed material on literature. A portion of the papers also document the publication of various little magazines and provide context for Williams’s role as founder, editor or contributor to several of them.
Photographs include snapshots and portraits of Williams, his family and friends, and places he lived or traveled to throughout his life. The collection contains author and editor John C. Thirlwall’s research material for The Selected Letters of William Carlos Williams, including originals and photocopies of correspondence between Williams and other individuals, and photocopies of Williams's correspondence and writings held by other institutions. A small quantity of the papers specifically document his work as a physician in the form medical records, though much about his life as a doctor is revealed throughout the correspondence.
- circa 1880-1985
- Majority of material found within 1930 - 1973
Language of Materials
Conditions Governing Access
Boxes 73-76 (Series VI. Medical Records): restricted until January 2, 2098. For further information consult Access Services.
Boxes 86-94: Restricted fragile material. Reference surrogates have been substituted in the main files. For further information consult Access Services.
Box 95 (Sound Recordings): Restricted fragile. Reference copies may be requested. Consult Access Services for further information.
Existence and Location of Copies
Series I. General Correspondence, Kay Boyle (film number 714); Series I. General Correspondence, Malcolm Cowley (film number 682); Series I. General Correspondence, Denise Levertov (film number 1136); Series II. Writings, Prose, "The Embodiment of Knowledge" (film number 933); Series II. Writings, Prose, "Prose 1914-1929" (film number 2029); Series II. Writings, Other Writings, Translations, Various poems by Nicholas Calas translated from French to English (film number 2170).
Conditions Governing Use
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The bulk of the papers were purchased from William Carlos Williams. In 1940 and 1941, Williams donated to Yale University Library a large group of little magazines that he intended to discard. Through 1953, Williams occasionally sent copies of his published works to complete the Yale Library's collection. In 1953, after having donated materials for over a decade, Williams stated that he was considering the future of his manuscripts and considered Yale an appropriate place for them. In 1955, purchasing negotiations were complete.
Between 1969 and 1970, John Thirlwall gave the library papers given to him by Williams for Thirlwall's work on The Selected Letters of William Carlos Williams (see Series VIII, John Thirlwall Materials). Among the materials were letters that individuals lent to Williams upon his request to help Thirlwall publish the letters, but the originals were never intended to be lent to anyone other than Williams. Subsequently, individuals requested that Thirlwall return the letters, and these requests for the return of originals continued after their arrival at Yale. Yale returned the originals and retained photocopies.
40.79 Linear Feet ((96 boxes) + 1 oversize portfolio)
William Carlos Williams
From 1897 to 1899, Williams and his brother went to Europe with their mother for schooling in Château de Lancy near Geneva, Switzerland and the Lycée Condorcet in Paris. Following Williams’s return to the United States in 1899, he enrolled at Horace Mann High School in New York City, where he ran track. In 1901, he fell ill after a race and was diagnosed with a heart murmur; forced to stop running, he became an avid reader and began to write poetry. Williams enrolled in dental school in 1902 at the University of Pennsylvania, but soon transferred to the medical school. There he met Ezra Pound, with whom he would develop a life-long and often strained friendship. Pound played an important role in Williams’ development as a writer and introduced him to Hilda Doolittle (H.D.), who was attending nearby Bryn Mawr College. During this time Williams also befriended artist Charles Demuth.
Following graduation in 1906, Williams moved to New York City for internships at French Hospital and Nursery and Child’s Hospital. In 1909 his first play, Betty Putnam, was produced and Williams published Poems by William C. Williams at a local printer. The same year, Williams met Florence “Flossie” Herman, who promised to marry him when he returned from the University of Leipzig where he was to study pediatrics. While in Germany, Williams made several trips to various countries and visited Ezra Pound in London and his brother in Italy. After just one year in his studies, Williams returned to the United Stated, anxious to return to Florence and begin a medical practice. In September of 1910, Williams opened his practice in Rutherford, New Jersey and nearly three years later, on December 12, 1912, he married Florence and they settled in Rutherford. They would remain married until his death. Williams relocated his practice to his new home in Rutherford and became a successful and well-respected physician, a position he would hold in the Rutherford community for the rest of his life.
The couple’s first son, William Eric, was born in January 1914 and their second son, Paul, was born in September 1916. Around 1914, Williams became restless with his work as just a doctor, and began to visit New York City, spending time in Greenwich Village among writers and artists. Williams was determined to strike a balance between his work as a successful doctor, which provided him financial and family stability, and as a writer with a full literary career. His friends in Greenwich Village supported this endeavor and provided him a community with which to share his poems and other writings. Among the poets were a core group, most of whom published work in the little magazine Others, comprised of Alfred Kreymborg, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, Maxwell Bodenheim, and Edna St. Vincent Millay. In 1914, Williams’s poetry appeared in Pound and Amy Lowell’s Imagist anthology, Des Imagists. His poetry volume, Al Que Quiere!, appeared in 1917 and reflected Williams's Spanish and Puerto Rican roots. This volume introduced the theme that would be a constant through his life’s work: his struggle to understand his American identity in the country that he at once loved but struggled to understand and accept.
Though Williams’s work was initially swept into the Imagism movement, he quickly established his own voice and stood distinct from his contemporaries. He began to experiment in his poetry and went on to write several plays, short stories, novels, critical essays, an autobiography, and translations. His writing and physician’s life were balanced by working as a doctor through the weekdays, writing at night, and spending weekends in New York City with fellow writers and artists. Williams’s developing writing voice became distinct from his influential friend Pound and contemporary T.S. Eliot, he set out to draw his themes from what he called “the local” and to not allude to foreign languages and Classical sources. He continued experimenting with new techniques of meter and lineation, further developing his new voice and focusing his subject matter on everyday circumstances of life and the lives of everyday people. This is most evident in his five-part epic Paterson, published between 1946 and 1958.
Williams began to write plays after acting with Mina Loy in one of Alfred Kreymborg’s plays. Innovation was important to Williams as he worked on Kora in Hell: Improvisations in 1920 while editing the little magazine Contact with Robert McAlmon. In 1924, Williams went on sabbatical for one year and wrote In the American Grain in the New York Public Library. For the rest of the year he and Florence left the children with friends and traveled to France. Much like Williams had done as a child with his own mother and brother, William Eric and Paul joined Florence on a trip to Europe in 1927 where they attended school. Williams joined them and took the opportunity to visit Pound, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, and Constantin Brâncu?i. While Williams was impressed by their literary success, he remained dedicated to living in the United States and writing in his singularly American voice. In 1927, he published, The Descent of Winter, and in 1928 A Voyage to Pagany, inspired by his European travels.
In 1930, along with Richard Johns, Williams began editing the experimental magazine Pagany. Around that time, he won the Guarantor's Prize for poems published in Louis Zukofsky's "Objectivist" issue of Poetry. In 1932, he resumed publishing Contact for a three-issue run. Over the next several years, Williams published poetry, drama and prose and worked steadily on Paterson, for which he would be become perhaps best known. He published the first book of the five-part semi-autobiographical epic poem in 1946 (he would die while still working on part six). The poem’s main character is a doctor and poet named Paterson who lives in Paterson, New Jersey, an industrial town along the Passaic River not far from Rutherford. The poem follows Paterson along in his life, concentrating on his daily experience. The poem is a sort of collage, integrating letters between Williams and others and poem fragments of other poets.
Towards the end of his life, Williams toured the United States giving readings and lectures, invited by eager writing teachers and students. Williams took this role seriously and spent time talking and corresponding with students, urging them to find their own voice and yet remain flexible and rooted in some literary tradition. Emerging writers cited Williams as a major influence throughout his life, including the poets among the Beat Generation, the Black Mountain School, the San Francisco Renaissance, and the New York School.
Williams suffered a heart attack in 1948 and his health began to decline. Though his health increasingly worsened that year, he published the second volume of Paterson, the play A Dream of Love, and several small collections of poems. In 1949 he published Selected Poems and Paterson III, along with the chapbook The Pink Church, a book accused of having communist overtones (though it was simply about the human body) and was made a fellow of the Library of Congress.
In 1950, Williams received the National Book Award for Selected Poems and Paterson III, published Make Light of It: Collected Short Stories and Collected Later Poems (1940-1950), and began publishing with Random House, the first commercial publisher other than New Directions (which Williams had been with since its 1936 founding) to publish his work. In 1951, Williams published Autobiography of William Carlos Williams, The Collected Earlier Poems, and Paterson IV and in March of that year he had his first stroke and he retired from medical practice. Williams suffered a second and serious stroke in August 1952. In spite of his declining health, Williams received the honor of being named Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress but his appointment was rescinded due to his alleged associations with communism and his friendship with controversial Ezra Pound. The position’s revocation coupled with his increasing difficulty with writing caused a severe depression, for which he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital the same year. He received the Bollingen Prize for Poetry along with Archibald MacLeish that year.
In October 1955 Williams had his third, paralyzing stroke. He eventually taught himself to speak again and learned to type with his unparalyzed hand on an electric typewriter, but his work process was profoundly affected. His health continued to worsen and in 1959 he published Yes, Mrs. Williams, a biography of his mother, and participated in The Living Theatre production of his play Many Loves. Various short stories collected in The Farmers' Daughters and plays collected in Many Loves and Other Plays were published in 1961. In 1962 New Directions published Williams's last poetry collection, Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems.
On March 4, 1963, Williams died at his home in Rutherford at the age of 79. Locally, he was remembered as a doctor who delivered nearly 2,000 children. Nationally, he was lauded for his writing. In May, 1963 he was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems and the Gold Medal for Poetry of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. His most anthologized poems are “The Red Wheelbarrow” and “This Is Just To Say.”
- American drama -- 20th Century
- American literature -- 20th century
- American poetry -- 20th Century
- Authors -- 20th Century
- Berrien, Edith Heal, 1903-1995
- Brown, Edmund R. (Edmund Randolph), 1888-
- Burke, Kenneth, 1897-1993
- Ginsberg, Allen, 1926-1997
- Laughlin, James, 1914-1997
- Lewis, H. H.
- Lyle, David
- New Directions Publishing
- Physicians -- New Jersey
- Poets -- 20th Century
- Poets, American -- 20th Century -- Archives
- Pound, Ezra, 1885-1972
- Thirlwall, John C.
- Turner, Alva Nola, 1878-1963
- Williams, William Carlos, 1883-1963 -- Archives
- Zukofsky, Louis, 1904-1978
- Guide to the William Carlos Williams Papers
- by Molly Wheeler
- November 2008
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description note
- Finding aid written in English.
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