Robert Ferro papers
Scope and Contents
The Robert Ferro Papers consist of personal correspondence and material related to his published and unpublished writings, with a small selection of academic and personal papers. The bulk of the collection concerns Ferro's writings, particularly his four novels which, with their semi-autobiographical themes of homosexuality, family, and illness, tell much about his community in the 1970s and 1980s; his earlier writings often refer to his experience of living in Italy. Ferro also wrote critical reviews for various gay newspapers, and the collection contains snapshot photographs of Gay Pride marches in New York. While his correspondence files are not extensive, they do hold letters from others writers working in the United States and abroad.
Conditions Governing Access
The materials are open for research.
Conditions Governing Use
The Robert Ferro Papers is the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Purchased from the Robert Ferro Estate on the Sinclair Lewis Fund, 1998.
Organized into three series: I. Correspondence and Personal Papers (1964-1988); II. Writings by Ferro (1963-1988); and III. Writings about Ferro (1983-1988).
8.5 Linear Feet (11 boxes)
Language of Materials
A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog
The Robert Ferro Papers consist of personal correspondence and material related to his published and unpublished writings, with a few files of academic and personal papers. The bulk of the collection concerns Ferro's writings, particularly his four novels, which with their semi-autobiographical themes of homosexuality, family, and illness, tell much about his community in the 1970s and 1980s. His earlier writings often refer to his experiences of living in Italy. Ferro also wrote critical reviews for various gay newspapers, and the collection contains snapshot photographs of Gay Pride marches in New York. While his correspondence files are not extensive, they do hold letters from others writers working in the United States and abroad.
Robert Ferro (1941-1988)
Robert Michael Ferro was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, on October 21, 1941. The son of Michael and Gae Panzera Ferro, he was raised in nearby Cranford, New Jersey, with his siblings Michael Jr., Camille, and Beth. While his father was born in America, Ferro's mother had immigrated in 1914 from Italy, a country that would figure prominently in her son’s life and writings.
Ferro attended public school in Cranford and in 1963 received a BA in English from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. After graduation, determined to become a writer, he lived for a year in Florence, Italy, where he studied Italian and wrote fiction. Ferro enrolled at the Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa in the fall of 1965; there he studied with the Chilean novelist Jose Donoso and earned a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing in 1967. During his final semester at Iowa, Ferro met Michael Grumley (1941-1988), also a student at the Writers' Workshop, and the two began a two-decade-long personal and professional partnership. Known to their friends as “the Ferro-Grumleys,” the couple lived primarily on New York’s Upper West Side, but also spent extended periods of time in Rome and London. The Ferro family owned an oceanfront home at Sea Girt, New Jersey, which was a place that held particular significance for Robert Ferro: he named the house with a double entendre, “Gaewyck,” and designed extensive improvement campaigns for the property. As recorded in Michael Grumley’s engagement calendars and daily journals, the pair regularly stayed at the shore house, where they gardened, cooked, read books, and entertained friends and family, while still carving out time to work on their writing projects.
Robert Ferro published five books during his lifetime, four novels and one work of non-fiction, Atlantis: the Autobiography of a Search (Doubleday, 1970), that he coauthored with Michael Grumley. His novels formed what he referred to as a “cycle” of semi-autobiographical writings about homosexuality, the family, and illness. He considered the first, The Others (Scribners, 1977) to be a prologue to the rest: The Family of Max Desir (Dutton, 1983), The Blue Star (Dutton, 1985), and The Second Son (Crown, 1988). Ferro thought the last, in which the lead characters are lovers who both have AIDS, to be his best work. Well received by critics, it was one of the earliest published novels in which the disease features prominently.
Michael Grumley and Robert Ferro were affiliated with a literary group known as the Violet Quill, whose seven members, as men writing for men, are regarded as one of the strongest collective voices of the gay male experience in the post-Stonewall era. Authors Christopher Cox, Andrew Holleran, Felice Picano, Edmund White, George Whitmore, Ferro, and Grumley met several times in 1979, 1980, and 1981 to read aloud from their works in progress. Also on the agenda were discussions of how they could work together to promote recognition, acceptance, and publication of gay literature beyond the boundaries of their own community. Of the VQ writers, Michael Grumley and Robert Ferro were the first to die from AIDS-related complications, both at age 46 in 1988, Grumley on April 28 and Ferro on July 11; they were followed by Whitmore in 1989 and Cox in 1990.
During the 1980s Ferro gave several interviews occasioned by specific book releases, but because his novels were conceived as a cycle, he generally touched upon them all. To his interviewers he spoke openly about the effect his writings had on his family, in particular his father, who was loving and accepting of his son in private life, but became upset when the family’s storyline was exposed to the public in print. The death of Gae Ferro from cancer in 1979 was also a pivotal point in the family dynamic, which was further stressed when her death precipitated discussions about selling the Sea Girt property. In interviews, Ferro also talked about the external forces that affected his work, including the state of literature, specifically gay literature, and the looming AIDS crisis then beginning to decimate his own and the larger cultural communities. By the end of his life, Ferro was aware of his place in all those worlds, and expressed his belief that one great value gay writers brought to fiction was truth; having already struggled their way out of the closet, there was little left to fear and much to celebrate in prose. As he observed in one of his final interviews, published in the San Francisco Sentinel a few months before his death, “I understand now that I’m a part of a very important movement in American literature. We are an army of people writing a way of life and writing a history.”
After Robert Ferro's death, all papers remaining in the rental apartment he shared with Michael Grumley were removed by Ferro's siblings; the papers were then sorted into groups of files for each author, and packed for transfer to Yale. Material related to their coauthored volume Atlantis had been sorted into Ferro's cartons, but considering the book's non-fiction content and publisher, it was moved into Grumley's papers during processing.
- AIDS (Disease)
- American fiction -- 20th Century
- Authors, American -- 20th Century -- Archives
- Cleaver, Diane
- Cratsley, Bruce, 1944-
- De Combray, Richard
- Elliott, Desmond, 1929-2003
- Ferro, Robert
- Gay men -- Fiction
- Gay men -- United States
- Gay men's writings, American
- Gay pride parades -- New York (State) -- New York -- Pictorial works
- Grumley, Michael
- Holleran, Andrew
- Iowa Writers' Workshop
- Italy -- Description and travel
- Kramer, Larry
- LGBTQ resource
- Male homosexuality -- Fiction
- Menegas, Peter
- Moses, Charles
- Rist, Darrell Yates
- Rivers, Ann
- Violet Quill (Group of writers)
- White, Edmund, 1940-
- Whitehead, William G. (William Grant), 1943-1987
- Guide to the Robert Ferro Papers
- by Sandra Markham
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description note
- Finding aid written in English.
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