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James Schuyler Papers
MSS 0078  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Access
  • Acquisition Information
  • Preferred Citation
  • Publication Rights
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Creator: Schuyler, James
    Title: James Schuyler Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1947-1991
    Extent: 13.00 linear feet (29 archives boxes, 3 card file boxes, 7 oversize folder)
    Abstract: Papers of James Schuyler, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and member of the New York School circle of poets and painters. A New York City resident since 1950, Schuyler moved among prominent artists and writers of the period and worked as an art critic and associate editor for Art News from 1955 to circa 1962, and in the Museum of Modern Art beginning in 1957. He published his first novel, Alfred and Guinevere, in 1958 and continued a distinguished career, publishing twelve books of poetry and two additional novels, including A Nest of Ninnies with John Ashbery. Schuyler's collection of poems entitled The Morning of the Poem won a Pulitzer Prize in 1981. The bulk of the materials date between 1950 and 1970, with a second field of concentration in the late 1980s, and include correspondence with contemporary writers and visual artists, including John Ashbery, Frank O'Hara, Joe Brainard, Kenward Elmslie, Barbara Guest, Fairfield Porter, Ron Padgett, and Anne Waldman. Also included are manuscripts and typescripts; Art News materials; notebooks; diaries; miscellaneous subject files; and audio tape recordings. In 1992, a substantive addition was appended to the original Schuyler collection. The original collection is organized into eight series: 1) ORIGINAL FINDING AID, 2) BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS, 3) CORRESPONDENCE, 4) WRITINGS, 5) WRITINGS OF OTHERS, 6) SUBJECTS, 7) AUDIO TAPE RECORDINGS and 8) ORIGINALS OF PRESERVATION PHOTOCOPIES; the addition to the James Schuyler papers is organized into five series: 1) CORRESPONDENCE, 2) WRITINGS, 3) PHOTOGRAPHS, 4) WRITINGS OF OTHERS, and 5) MISCELLANEOUS MATERIAL.
    Repository: University of California, San Diego. Geisel Library. Mandeville Special Collections Library.
    La Jolla, California 92093-0175
    Collection number: MSS 0078
    Language of Material: Collection materials in English


    Collection is open for research.

    Acquisition Information

    Not Available

    Preferred Citation

    James Schuyler Papers, MSS 0078. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UCSD.

    Publication Rights

    Publication rights are held by the creator of the collection.


    Born on November 9, 1923 in Chicago, Illinois, James Marcus Schuyler experienced a peripatetic childhood. His family lived for a time in Downer's Grove, a suburb of Chicago, then Washington, D.C., and later Chevy Chase, Maryland. His parents divorced early in Schuyler's childhood and he remained with his mother and step-father. At the age of twelve, his family moved to Buffalo, New York, and two years later to East Aurora, a suburb outside of Buffalo.
    Schuyler attended Bethany College in West Virginia from 1941 to 1943. There he pursued interests in history, architecture, and literature. During World War II, in 1943, he joined the U.S. Navy. He spent the next two years on a destroyer in the North Atlantic, protecting convoys. He remained in the Navy after the war.
    In 1947, Schuyler moved to the Isle of Ischia in Italy for two years. There he lived in the rented house of W.H. Auden, whom he had met in New York. Schuyler served as Auden's secretary, typing the manuscript for Auden's book Gnomes and Auden's translation of Jean Cocteau's "Les Chevaliers de la Table Ronde." Schuyler also attended the University of Florence at this time, and he began writing poetry. Although he returned to New York briefly, an inheritance allowed him the financial independence to return to Florence in mid-1950.
    Schuyler began writing seriously in the late 1940's, but an important breakthrough in his career came in 1951. As a result of his correspondence with Howard Moss, Moss published Schuyler's poem "Salute", written in the hospital in White Plains, New York. Moss later published three of Schuyler's short stories in the magazine Accent along with a poem entitled "Three Penny Opera" by Frank O'Hara. At a party, Moss introduced Schuyler to Frank O'Hara and John Ashbery, who had been Moss's schoolmates at Harvard.
    Schuyler soon became involved with the so-called New York School of writers and artists. By 1951, he and Frank O'Hara shared an apartment on 49th Street, where they were later joined by John Ashbery after Ashbery's return from France. Schuyler worked for a while at a bookshop on 54th street and later, with the financial assistance of a friend, devoted himself to writing what would become his first novel, Alfred and Guinevere. By 1955 he was working for the magazine Art News as an art critic and associate editor. His colleagues at Art News included John Ashbery, Barbara Guest, Fairfield Porter, and Elaine De Kooning. For this journal Schuyler reviewed exhibitions and wrote articles. By 1957 he was also working for the Museum of Modern Art in the Department of Circulating Exhibitions.
    Schuyler's writing career expanded greatly in the mid-1950s and 1960s. He wrote the libretto for Paul Bowles' recording entitled A Picnic Cantata (1955) and two off-broadway plays, Presenting Jane (1952) and Shopping and Waiting (1953). In 1958 he published his first novel, Alfred and Guinevere, a book about children and their perceptions. Then came two collections of verse, Salute (1960) and May 24th or So (1966).
    Between 1961 and 1973, Schuyler lived with the Fairfield Porter family in Southampton, Long Island, and moved among New York poets and painters, including Fairfield Porter, Kenward Elmslie, Ron Padgett, and Joe Brainard. He collaborated with Kenward Elmslie on the off-broadway play Unpacking the Black Trunk (1965).
    Collaborating with John Ashbery, Schuyler published the novel A Nest of Ninnies in 1969. Begun early in their relationship, the novel is a satire on suburbanites and their lifestyles. This work appeared at the same time as Schuyler's first major collection of poetry Freely Espousing (1969).
    Schuyler's productivity reached a zenith during the 1970s, with the publication of numerous collections of poems including The Crystal Lithium (1972); A Sun Cab (1972); Penguin Modern Poets 24, with Kenneth Koch and Kenward Elmslie (1973); Hymn to Life (1974); Song (1976); The Fireproof Floors of Witley Count: English Songs and Dances (1976); and The Home Book: Prose and Poems 1951-1970 (1977). Schuyler also produced his third novel entitled What's for Dinner, published in 1978. His last work of the decade was The Morning of the Poem (1980), for which he received a Pulitzer Prize.
    Although well-known and successful by the early 1980s, Schuyler turned to a life of reclusion as poor health and financial difficulties hindered his writing. He continues to live in New York City, and has recently published two collections of poetry: A Few Days (1985) and Selected Poems (1988).
    In addition to a Pulitzer Prize for The Morning of the Poem, Schuyler received the Longview Foundation award (1961), the Frank O'Hara Prize (1969), two National Academy for the Arts grants (1969, 1972), an American Academy award (1977), and an Academy of American Poets fellowship (1983).
    "James Schuyler's is a poetry of perception, the recognition of shapes out of the indiscriminate sensory field," wrote George Butterick in Contemporary Poets (1985). "Reading him," wrote Butterick, "there is a sense of focusing field glasses; always the sharper image results...Schuyler is determined to possess the natural world without a lapse into symbolism. Nature is not to be quarreled with, nor confused with human needs. The world is distinguishable among its parts as well as from the observing narrator. He has tried life and it fits; life matches art..."
    Schuyler died on April 12, 1991.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    Accessions Processed in 1992
    The James Schuyler papers contain manuscripts or typescripts for most of Schuyler's works. Also included is abundant correspondence, especially with painters, poets, and writers of the New York School circle. The collection is organized into eight series: 1) ORIGINAL FINDING AID, 2) BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS, 3) CORRESPONDENCE, 4) WRITINGS, 5) WRITINGS OF OTHERS, 6) SUBJECTS, 7) AUDIO TAPE RECORDINGS and 8) ORIGINALS OF PRESERVATION PHOTOCOPIES.
    The ORIGINAL FINDING AID was produced by Raymond Foye, a close friend and "archivist" for James Schuyler. It consists of a list of folder titles, in most cases generated by Foye, with detailed descriptions of the materials which he inventoried.
    The BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS contain several articles about Schuyler, including a 1983 transcript of the Mark Hillringhouse interview, which provides details of Schuyler's life. Also located in this series is Schuyler's Pulitzer Prize certificate.
    A major series in the collection is CORRESPONDENCE, which is arranged alphabetically by correspondent and thereunder chronologically. The materials date from 1948 to 1987, with the greatest concentration of letters from the 1950s and 1960s. Included is extensive correspondence with many prominent writers and visual artists including Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, Joe Brainard, Kenward Elmslie, Barbara Guest, Fairfield Porter, Ron Padgett, and Anne Waldman. Many of the letters are detailed, carefully written, and of great literary merit in themselves. Correspondence with publishers about specific publications is located with manuscript materials under individual titles in the series WRITINGS.
    The WRITINGS series contains original writings by James Schuyler and is subdivided into six subseries: poetry, prose, journal articles and reviews, diaries, notebooks, and notes. Each subseries is further subdivided.
    "Poetry," the largest subseries of WRITINGS, includes published and unpublished works. The materials are arranged alphabetically under a combination of descriptive title, published title, and author's title. Included in this subseries are materials for Schuyler's Pulitzer Prize winning book The Morning of the Poem, as well as The Crystal Lithium, A Few Days, Freely Espousing, and The Home Book: Prose and Poems, 1951-1970. Many of the materials in this subseries are typescripts with holograph revisions, although there are abundant examples of holograph manuscripts. A large portion of poems were originally organized by Schuyler in folders titled "miscellaneous." These folders have been grouped in a sub-subseries as "miscellaneous collected poems" and reorganized alphabetically by title, or for untitled poems, by first line. Although, these folders contain some published poems, most are unpublished.
    Included in the "Prose" subseries are materials for Alfred and Guinevere, Early in '71, What's for dinner?, and A Nest of Ninnies. The notes and manuscripts for A Nest of Ninnies provide numerous examples of the method of Schuyler's collaboration with Ashbery. The "Prose" subseries also includes shorter prose works, including prose fragments and leaves, which are located at the beginning of the subseries under "miscellaneous prose."
    The subseries "Journal Articles and Reviews" includes materials related to Schuyler's work for Art News during the late 1950s and early 1960s. These Art News materials include annotated typescript drafts for feature articles on artists, reviews of exhibitions, and pocket-size notebooks with original notes created during assignments and interviews. Among the artists represented in the Art News materials are Joe Brainard, Paul Georges, Fairfield Porter, and Ludwig Sander. Only two early "diaries" are included in the "Journal Articles and Reviews" subseries, one dated 1955 and the other undated. Recent Schuyler diaries are still in the author's possession.
    The "Notebooks" subseries contains a variety of items written or collected by Schuyler, including poems, prose works, recipes, newspaper clippings, and messages. The notebooks are organized chronologically. They often relate to a particular place (e.g. "Calais, Vermont") or a time period. Folders containing miscellaneous groups of notes are located at the end of the subseries.
    Writings of other authors, which Schuyler collected, form a separate series entitled WRITINGS OF OTHERS. Among these materials is a poem entitled "To Jimmy" by Frank O'Hara, poems by Kenneth Koch, and a manuscript by Ludwig Sander about Sander's painting.
    A number of folders have been arranged alphabetically into the SUBJECTS series. Included are miscellaneous financial records, appointment and telephone books, announcements for poetry readings, memorabilia, and articles about gardening. Materials related to grants and financial aid, dating from the early 1980s, are organized under the granting institutions. An item of interest is a collection of phone messages Schuyler took while housesitting for Kenward Elmslie.
    Reel-to-reel tapes of Schuyler reading his work are located in the AUDIO TAPE RECORDINGS series. Included are selections from Freely Espousing, The Crystal Lithium, and The Morning of the Poem, in addition to other works. These especially valuable in light of Schuyler's reluctance to read in public.
    Accession Processed in 1993
    This substantive accession to the James Schuyler papers provides a wealth of biographical information, since it includes correspondence from Schuyler's lovers and closest friends, initially withheld from the collection. The collection is arranged in five series: 1) CORRESPONDENCE, 2) WRITINGS, 3) PHOTOGRAPHS, 4) OTHER WRITERS, and 5) MISCELLANEOUS MATERIALS.
    Because the bulk of the added correspondence dates from 1988 to 1991, when Schuyler was at the height of his artistic powers, exchanges with important writers help reflect Schuyler's mature vision. Hundreds of widely-dated postcards, also initially withheld, help document the quality and the activity of the friendship which surrounded Schuyler. Many of Schuyler's correspondents are known painters and poets. Among the major correspondents are Tom Carey, Helena Hughes, Anne Dunn, and Joe Brainard.
    Schuyler's unrecognized skill as a photographer shows itself in the prints and contact sheets which comprise part of the photography series. The recurrence of certain photographic subjects--flowers, still lifes, gardens, landscapes, sunlit rooms--reminds us that Schuyler's poetry, in which similar subjects predominate, is part of an encompassing aesthetic of which each part is, in a sense, incomplete. The community of painters and poets of whom Schuyler was a part seems implicit in Schuyler's work itself, which searches for a pictorial character independent from language. Pictorial arrangements more often found in photography, or in painting, or even in domestic decoration or design, typify Schuyler's best writing, which in turn sublimates them in delicate musical phrases.
    Among material separated from this addition to the Schuyler collection are tape recordings made of his rarely given readings. These recordings are listed on the separation sheet at the end of the finding aid.
    The miscellaneous series shows us openly charming, more accessible levels of the aesthetic which informs Schuyler's writing. Newspaper clippings, old calling cards, tintypes of anonymous faces, Victorian stickers, flower cards, Christmas scenes, calling cards, and other lovely objects, show us that conventional and even sentimental beauty may accompany the most serious thinking, perhaps as its anodyne. Schuyler's cards and curiosities also speak of gay identity, with its sense of the value of marginal things, its outcast status, and its necessary intransigence at social or cultural perimeters. The miscellaneous series also contains beautiful gift books made by Joe Brainard, Kenward Elmslie, and Bill Berkson. Lavishly constructed birthday cards attest to the persistence and fidelity of Schuyler's friendships. Schuyler's group friendships signify
    gay sensibility in another way, turning inevitable quarrels into comedies, and thereby maintaining a lasting sense of coterie. The miscellaneous series and correspondence series together document the life of that community of friends which came to generate so much art and writing.
    But undoubtedly, the most valuable of the additions to the Schuyler papers are the unpublished prose and poetry manuscripts and the journals which comprise part of the writing series. In his last years, Schuyler's contribution to these forms was magisterial.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.


    Schuyler, James -- Archives
    Art news
    American poetry -- 20th century
    Gay men -- United States
    Gay men -- United States -- Poetry
    Diaries -- 20th century.


    Ashbery, John, -- correspondent
    Brainard, Joe, 1942- , -- correspondent
    Elmslie, Kenward, -- correspondent
    Guest, Barbara, -- correspondent
    O'Hara, Frank, 1926-1966, -- correspondent
    Padgett, Ron, -- correspondent
    Porter, Fairfield, -- correspondent
    Waldman, Anne, 1945- , -- correspondent
    Button, John, -- correspondent
    Dash, Robert, -- correspondent
    Freilicher, Jane, 1924- , -- correspondent
    Mathews, Harry, 1930- , -- correspondent
    Merrill, James Ingram, -- correspondent
    Wieners, John, 1934- , -- correspondent
    Schuyler, James. -- Morning of the poem
    Schuyler, James. -- Crystal lithium
    Schuyler, James. -- Few days
    Schuyler, James. -- Freely espousing
    Schuyler, James. -- Home book