Special Collections Department
Robert A. Wilson
Collection related to
Manuscript Collection Number: 369
Accessioned: Purchase and gifts, April 1998-2009
Extent: .8 linear feet
Content: Letters, cards, photographs, typescripts, galleys, reviews, newspaper clippings, publishers' announcements, publicity and ephemera
Access: The collection is open for research.
Processed: June 1998, by Meghan J. Fuller
Special Collections, University of Delaware Library
Newark, Delaware 19717-5267
Table of Contents
From the outset of his writing career, Purdy has had difficulties attracting the attention of both publishers and critics. His first several short stories were rejected by every magazine to which he sent them, and he was forced to sign with a private publisher for his first two books, 63: Dream Palace and Don't Call Me by My Right Name and Other Stories, both published in 1956. Hoping to increase his readership, Purdy sent copies of these first two books to writers he admired, including English poet Dame Edith Sitwell. Sitwell raved about Purdy's work and helped convince an English publisher, Gollancz, to publish and distribute Purdy's books in England. Purdy's writing was introduced in the United States a year later when his previous books were published together in one volume, Color of Darkness: Eleven Stories and a Novella (1957).
Most of Purdy's work has been the subject of mixed critical response. While some, like Sitwell and book dealer Robert A.Wilson, appreciate the artistry of Purdy's work, many American publishers and critics regard his work as too daring and risque. In a 1990 letter to Wilson, Purdy wrote, "Dame Edith Sitwell once told me I was the wrong color, race, religion, and talent ever to be accepted by the New York Establishment. I didn't understand quite the full meaning of her words at the time. Now I do. I want to leave the US eventually and never come back. But I haven't earned enough money to live here, let alone depart" (F3). Many of Purdy's letters reflect this frustration.
Despite his lack of commercial popularity in the United States, Purdy is not entirely without critical success. He won a National Institute of Arts and Letters grant in literature in 1958, followed by Guggenheim fellowships in both 1958 and 1962. Purdy is also the recipient of a Rockefeller grant, a Ford Foundation Grant (1961), and a P.E.N.-Faulkner Award nomination in 1985 for On Glory's Course. Most recently, he was awarded a Morten Dauwen Zabel Fiction award from the Academy of Arts and Letters (1993).
Though Purdy has had much critical and commercial success abroad particularly in the Netherlands, he struggled to increase his readership in the United States. As he lamented in a 1988 letter to Wilson, "The good thing about the Dutch for me is they are very enthusiastic about my work while the American publishers seem to do everything in their power along with the New York Times to starve me to death." (F3).
Robert A. Wilson
Through the bookshop, Wilson published the work of many notable writers, including Gertrude Stein, Marianne Moore, W.H. Auden, Allen Ginsberg, Elizabeth Bishop, and Richard Wilbur. During his twenty-six year tenure as the proprietor of the Phoenix, Wilson oversaw the publication of no less than 43 volumes.
An avid collector of rare books and manuscripts for his own personal collection, Wilson himself is the author of more than a dozen volumes, many of which he published on a mimeograph machine in the back room of the Phoenix. Among these are Auden's Library (1975); Marianne Serves Lunch (1976); Robert Haggard's "She" (1977), which Purdy praises in his December 9, 1977 letter to Wilson (F1); Faulkner on Fire Island (1979); and Tea With Alice (1978), an interview with his friend, Alice Toklas.
In 1988, financial difficulties forced Wilson to close the doors forever, thereby ending the Phoenix's fifty-six year history.
Despite a minor misunderstanding over the price of a rare volume of Purdy's Are You in the Winter Tree translated into Dutch, the collection seems to indicate that Wilson and Purdy are longtime friends. Wilson was, and by all accounts still is, a great admirer of Purdy's work as evidenced by his diverse collection of Purdy's manuscripts, published work, and ephemera.
Sources:Metzger, Linda, Ed. Contemporary Authors. New Revision Series, Volume 19. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1984. pp.389-395.
Wilson, Robert A. et al. Phoenix Bookshop: A Nest of Memories. Candia, NH: John LeBow, 1997.
Scope and Content Note
Series I. Letters from Purdy to Wilson, 1966-1998, are arranged chronolgically. These letters are generally brief and usually describe where and from whom Wilson might purchase copies of Purdy's new volumes, many of which were difficult to find in the United States. Though they may have begun their correspondence for business reasons, the letters indicate that their relationship was amicable; they sent Christmas and Easter cards back and forth and inquired about each other's health.
Series II. Writings by Purdy comprises nine subseries (F1-F12), Color of Darkness; Scrap of Paper; Macolm; poems, 1974-1984; Sleep Tight; Mud Toe the Canibal; Dawn; On Glory's Course; and In a Shallow Grave (film version). Arranged chronologically by the publication date of the work, each folder contains Purdy's manuscripts or galleys as well as reviews, publishers' announcements, publicity fliers and other ephemera related to that particular work.
Series III. Publictity and Promotion, 1956-1992 comprises eleven folders: 63: Dream Palace; The Nephew; Children is All; The House of the Solitary Maggot; Narrow Rooms; Garments the Living Wear; Out With the Stars; Publishers' Announcements, 1964-n.d.; Other Reviews, 1977-1991, n.d.; and Observations of American Writers, 1972. It is arranged chronologically by the publication date of the work. The last folders contain miscellaneous publishers' announcements and reviews for which there is only one piece in the collection. This series also includes Observations of American Writers, a loose leaf collection of brief essays by well known American writers in commemoration of International Book Year (1972).
Related collections:Ms 370 James Purdy Manuscripts
I. Letters from Purdy to Wilson, 1966-1998 II. Writings by Purdy, 1957-1992 III. Publicity and Promotion, 1956-1992
1 Series I. Letters from James Purdy to Robert A. Wilson, 1966-1998 Includes letters from Purdy to Wilson, mostly detailing the availablity of certain rare or out of print copies of Purdy's publications. Also provides an interesting glimpse into the politics of the publishing world. F1 Letters, Purdy to Wilson, 1966-1979 7 items 7 pp. F2 Letters, Purdy to Wilson, 1980-1989 6 items 8 pp. F3 Letters, Purdy to Wilson, 1990-1998 13 items 14 pp. 1 Series II. Writings by Purdy, 1957-1992. Includes material from or related to his novels, short stories, poems, and plays. Most of the items are either signed or inscribed. F4 Color of Darkness, 1957 (13 items) Includes undated script bound in limp leatherette, inscribed "For Robert Wilson, James Purdy," a 14x22" display card for the original New York production, six 8x10" photographs taken by Alix Jeffrey, and other newspaper clippings and publicity fliers F5 Scrap of Paper, 1967 (4 items) Including typed manuscript with holograph notations, Evergreen Review contributor's questionnaire with holograph notations, and two typed letters signed by Jack Phelps, Purdy's agent F6 Malcolm, 1969 (2 items) Set of 8 sample page proofs Uncorrected long galleys F7 Poems, 1974-1984 (5 items) Includes "Gossamer Noons," a single leaf of sheet music insert for Lincoln Center program, March 1978; "She Came Out of the Morning Mists," (1975) postcard inscribed, "For Robert Wilson, James Purdy," and galley proofs for "Olyphant" signed by Purdy F8 Sleep Tight, 1979 (2 items) Ts with holograph notation Uncorrected long galleys for NADJA F9 Mud Toe the Cannibal, 1983 (1 item) Published story inscribed "For Robert Wilson, All Best Wishes, James" F10 Dawn, 1984 (1 item) TsS, inscribed "For Robert A. Wilson, Sincere Good Wishes, James Purdy" F11 On Glory's Course, 1984 (3 items) Includes an autographed invitation to a publicity party for the novel, a photocopied review from the London Times, 10 February 1985, inscribed "For Robert, Best Wishes, James," and the publisher's sample of page proofs F12 In a Shallow Grave (film), 1988 (5 items) Includes a movie poster and other publicty related to the film, as well as a copy of the sheet music for On the Alamo by Isham Jones (1976), inscribed on the cover, "Song is said to have been played on the victrola in the novel by James Purdy, In a Shallow Grave (1976) but never quoted." Also includes a 250 word explanation why the song was not included in the book, written inside and on the back cover. 2 Series III. Publicity and Promotion, 1956-1992. Includes reviews, newspaper clippings, publicity fliers, and posters, most of which are inscribed or signed by Purdy. F13 63: Dream Palace, 1956-1990 (4 items) F14 The Nephew, 1960 (3 items) F15 Children is All, 1961 (2 items) F16 The House of the Solitary Maggot, 1974 (5 items) F17 Narrow Rooms, 1978 (3 items) F18 Garments the Living Wear, 1989 (2 items) F19 Out With the Stars, 1992 (5 items) F20 Publishers' Announcements, 1964-n.d. (5 items) F21 Other Reviews, 1977-1991, n.d. (8 items) 2 Series III. Publicity and Promotion, 1956-1992 (cont'd) F22 Publicity Fliers, Programs, and Posters for performances of his work, 1975-n.d. (16 items) F23 Observations of American Writers, 1972 (18 items) Loose-leaf pocketed portfolio created to commemorate International Book Year, includes a brief 2-3 page statement plus a photograph of each of the following writers: Martin A. Bacheller Moving Boundaries Ray Bradbury On a Burning Book B.J. Chute Street Signs are for Reading Richard Condon A Book with Glued Pages Nathan C. Heard Prison and Reading Rona Jaffe Writers and Writing Meyer Levin Criticizing the Critics Vance Packard From Shelver to Author Bentz Plagemann A Return to the Story Peter Prescott What "Lorna Doone" Means to Me James Purdy Writing from Inner-Compulsion Irving Wallace But Love is Not a Crime A.B.C. Wipple You Learn a Little Something Everyday John A. Williams A Mother's Conviction Purdy's piece is inscribed "Death to New York! James Purdy"
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