University of Delaware Library

Special Collections Department

John Malcolm Brinnin
Letters to
John Matthew O’Shea

1977 - 1991


Manuscript Collection Number: 404
Accessioned: Gift of John M. O’Shea, March 2001
Extent: .2 linear ft. (54 items)
Content: letters
Access: The collection is open for research.
Processed: March 2001, by Anita A. Wellner

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Special Collections, University of Delaware Library
Newark, Delaware 19717-5267
(302) 831-2229

Table of Contents

Biographical Note

Poet and biographer John Malcolm Brinnin was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on September 13, 1916, to John A. Brinnin and Frances Malcolm Brinnin. When he was young his family moved to Detroit, Michigan. Brinnin graduated from the University of Michigan in 1942 and within a year entered graduate school at Harvard University.

Brinnin, who was also a critic, anthologist, and teacher, taught at Vassar, Boston University, the University of Connecticut, and Harvard. He was Director of the Young Men's and Young Women's Hebrew Association Poetry Center (the 92nd Street Y) in New York City during one of the Center's most successful periods (1949-1956).

Brinnin was the first person to bring Welsh poet Dylan Thomas to the United States and was responsible for all of Dylan Thomas's reading tours in this country. Brinnin's best known work, Dylan Thomas in America, published in 1955, provides a personal memoir of Dylan Thomas's trips to America as Brinnin observed them, and carries a moving account of the period of Thomas's death in 1953. Dylan Thomas in America was made into the 1964 Broadway play, Dylan. Brinnin later narrated a motion picture, The Days of Dylan Thomas.

John Malcolm Brinnin published a number of collections of poems. Brinnin's first collection of verse, The Garden is Political, was published in 1942. Subsequent collections of poems include The Lincoln Lyrics (1942), No Arch, No Triumph (1945), The Sorrows of Cold Stone (1951), and Selected Poems of John Malcolm Brinnin (1963). Skin Diving in the Virgins, and Other Poems (1970) was Brinnin's final collection of published poetry, although he continued to tinker with a number of abandoned poems until his death.

In 1955 the Poetry Society of America awarded Brinnin its Gold Medal for Distinguished Service to Poetry. Following the publication of his Selected Poems in 1963, Brinnin was awarded the Centennial Medal for Distinction in Literature by his alma mater, the University of Michigan.

In addition to writing poetry, Brinnin edited a literary journal, Signatures (1936-1938), and compiled several anthologies of modern poetry. Brinnin's two popular works on transatlantic travel, The Sway of the Grand Saloon: A Social History of the North Atlantic (1971) and Beau Voyage: Life Aboard the Last Great Ships (1981), reflect his lifelong love of travel, particularly crossing the Atlantic on luxury liners.

John Malcolm Brinnin authored biographies of Gertrude Stein (The Third Rose, 1959) and Truman Capote (Truman Capote: Dear Heart, Old Buddy, 1986). His work, Sextet (1981), included biographical sketches of Truman Capote; Henri Cartier-Bresson; Elizabeth Bowen; Edith, Osbert, and Sacheverell Sitwell; Alice B. Toklas; and T. S. Eliot. In addition, he wrote a critical work on William Carlos Williams.

John Malcolm Brinnin died at his home in Key West, Florida, on June 25, 1998.


Evory, Ann (ed.) Contemporary Authors. New Revision Series, Volume 1. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1981. p. 72.

Quartermain, Peter (ed.) Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 48: American Poets, 1880-1945, Second Series. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1986. Pp 52-57.

Stewart, Barbara. "John Malcolm Brinnin, Poet and Biographer, Dies at 81," The New York Times. 1998 Jun 30.

Scope and Content Note

John Malcolm Brinnin Letters to John Matthew O’Shea consists of fifty-four letters written by Brinnin, between 1977 and 1991, to his friend John O’Shea, who was a companion to Truman Capote during the 1970s. One of Brinnin’s letters is written on the verso of a letter written by O’Shea to Brinnin.

When the first letters available in this collection were written, Brinnin was coping with the illness of his long-time friend Bill Read, who died in June 19, 1978. In his letters Brinnin reflected on his situation and inquired about O’Shea’s life with his friend Truman Capote.

After a six-year gap, the correspondence resumed in 1984, following the death of Truman Capote. Since O’Shea resided in Florida, he and Brinnin arranged to meet during the months when Brinnin wintered in Key West. Although the letters between 1984 and 1991 mention visits, travels, and mutual friends, the main subject is Brinnin’s work on Truman Capote: Dear Heart, Old Buddy (Delacorte Press, 1986).

This collection complements thirteen letters written by John O’Shea to Brinnin, which are available in the John Malcolm Brinnin Papers (Ms 103). In those letters, written between 1977 and 1994, O’Shea mentions Truman Capote, other aspects of his personal life, and his work. A copy of the typescript for John O’Shea’s eulogy to Truman Capote, titled “The Little Tippler,” is also included in the Brinnin Papers (Series III.7, F7).

Related Collections:

Ms 99 John Malcolm Brinnin letter to [Jane] (F330)

Ms 99 John Malcolm Brinnin letter to Samuel M. Baker, Jr. (F412)

Ms 103 John Malcolm Brinnin Papers

Ms 111 Louis Untermeyer Papers (F24)

Ms 178 Tram Combs Correspondence

Ms 257 Collection of John Malcolm Brinnin – Kimon Friar Correspondence and Brinnin Literary Manuscripts

Ms 363 Edward Field Papers (Series II, F47)

Contents List

Box -- Folder -- Contents

     Letters written by John Malcolm Brinnin to John Matthew
     O’Shea, 1977-1991

F1   1977 Nov 4          ALS       1p
          Nov 22         ALS       1p  (torn)
     1978 Apr 22         ALS       2p
          Oct 2          TLS       2p

F2   1984 Sep 20         TLS       1p
          Nov 22         ALS       2p
          Dec 1          ALS       1p
          Dec 22         ALS       2p

F3   1985 Feb 28         ALS       1p
          Mar 12         ALS       1p
          [May 20]       ALS       1p
               Note:  Brinnin’s letter is written on the verso of
               an O’Shea letter to Brinnin dated May 20, 1985.
          Jun 2          ALS       1p
          Jun 5          ALS       1p
          Jun 25         ALS       2p
          Jul 8          ALS       2p
          Jul 29         ALS       2p

F4   1985 Aug 9          ALS       1p
          Sep 10         ALS       2p
          Sep 25         ALS       2p
          Oct 9          ALS       2p
          Oct 20         ALS       3p
          Oct 30         ALS       2p

F5   1985 Nov 13         ALS       2p
          Nov 22         ALS       2p
          Dec 8          ALS       2p
          Dec 17         ALS       1p
          Dec 22         TLS       1p
          Dec 24         ALS       2p
          Dec 27         ALS       1p

F6   1986 Jan 11         ALS       2p
          Jan 19         ALS       1p
          Feb 2          ALS       1p
          Feb 9          ALS       2p
          Feb 17         ALS       2p
          Mar 1          ALS       1p
          Mar 16         ALS       1p
          Apr 16         ALS       2p
          Easter         ALS       1p

F7   1986 May 6          TLS       2p
          May 16         TLS       1p
          May 31         TLS       1p
          Jul 19         TLS       1p
          Nov 14         TLS       2p
          Nov 30         ALS       1p
          Dec 12         TLS       1p

F8   1987 May 9          ALS       2p
     1988 Aug 8          ALS       2p
          Nov 17         ALS       1p
          Dec 9          TLS       1p
          Dec 29         TLS       1p

F9   1989 Jan 12         TLS       1p
          Jan 31         ALS       2p
     1991 Jan 26         ALS       1p
          Nov 10         TLS       1p

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