Scope and Content of Collection
Title: Tram Combs Papers
Identifier/Call Number: MSS 123
Mandeville Special Collections Library
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, California, 92093-0175
Language of Material:
4.0 Linear feet
(10 archives boxes)
Date (inclusive): 1946 - 1964
Papers of Tram Combs, writer and bookseller. Combs lived in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1940s and was associated
with many well-known writers. In 1951 he moved to St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, where he owned and operated a bookstore. Combs
was active in Gay literary circles and contributed to early Gay periodicals such as the
. Materials in the collection date from the late 1940s through 1964 and include correspondence, writings, and photographs.
Combs, Tram, 1924-
Scope and Content of Collection
Dating from the late 1940s through 1964, the papers document the life, writings, and thought of Tram Combs. The collection
includes Combs' personal revelations about his life as a writer and Gay person in the 1950s and early 60s. In addition, the
papers provide unusual insights into Gay politics and literary infighting in the United States and the Virgin Islands.
Combs himself organized his own papers quite thoroughly. He often wrote notes explaining how the papers were originally created
and how and why the materials were arranged as they were. The present collection is organized in six series: 1) CORRESPONDENCE,
2) NOTEBOOKS AND WORKING SHEETS, 3) TYPESCRIPTS OF VERSE, 4) AUTHOR'S COLLECTION OF SERIALS, 5) WRITINGS OF OTHERS, and 6)
SERIES 1: CORRESPONDENCE
Although it comprises a relatively small portion of the collection, the CORRESPONDENCE is fascinating in that both sides of
many exchanges are present. Combs kept carbon copies of even his most mundane letters. Many of these letters are lengthy,
gossipy, and full of interesting personal, political and literary trivia. Major correspondents include Auerhahn Press, D.
Clark, James Boyer May, the Mattachine Society (one of the first Gay liberation organizations), Robert I. Nesmith, Alan Priest,
Gerd Stern and Knute Stiles. The correspondence with Clark is particularly revealing of Combs' personal life and feelings.
Combs' letters to Gonzalo Segura include Combs' opinions of the activities of the Mattachine Society. The entire CORRESPONDENCE
series is organized alphabetically by correspondent.
Although the collection contains references to Combs's extensive correspondence with William Carlos Williams, Lawrence Ferlinghetti,
Gary Snyder, Robert Duncan, Jonathan Williams and Kenneth Patchen, these letters are not included. It is likely that this
correspondence was sold prior to UCSD's acquisition of the papers.
SERIES 2: NOTEBOOKS AND WORKING SHEETS
The second series, NOTEBOOKS AND WORKING SHEETS, contains jottings and drafts of poems in manuscript. The description - Working
Sheets - was used by the poet himself, who used that title for all working drafts of his verse. The materials are arranged
chronologically wherever possible. Undated working papers were placed in a separate folder.
SERIES 3: TYPESCRIPTS OF VERSE
The largest series, TYPESCRIPTS OF VERSE, is divided into three subseries: A) Published Books, B) Unpublished Books, and C)
A) Published Books consists of typescript copies and revisions (some with annotations) of four of Combs' major works. These
items are organized chronologically by book title. Materials from
Saints Thomas' and Francis' cities songs o' Tram and
Briefs: poems are not found in this collection.
B) The subseries Unpublished Books contains Combs' compilation of three large collections of poetry, along with lengthy Christmas
cards containing verse. These works are arranged by title and date.
C) The final subseries in TYPESCRIPTS OF VERSE is Miscellaneous Poems. This includes a notebook of some of Combs's earliest
poems, collected and arranged by the poet and entitled "Combs Poems: thru 1950." Also in this subseries is an extensive collection
of miscellaneous typescripts of poems dating from 1951 to 1964 and arranged chronologically. Curiously, there are fewer typescripts
for the years 1955 and 1956. This may be due to the fact that Combs was busy helping to found the Virgin Islands Museum during
SERIES 4: AUTHOR'S COLLECTION OF SERIALS
AUTHOR'S COLLECTION OF SERIALS is the fourth series. Included are relatively obscure periodicals which contain published versions
of Combs' writing, as well as reviews of Combs' work. These items are arranged alphabetically by serial title.
SERIES 5: WRITINGS OF OTHERS
WRITINGS OF OTHERS is composed of Combs' small collection of what appears to be his friends' and students' writings. It is
arranged alphabetically by author.
SERIES 6: PHOTOGRAPHS
The final series, PHOTOGRAPHS, consists of both prints and negatives. Most of the images are snapshots of Combs' family and
friends, along with many scenes from the Virgin Islands.
Elisha Trammel (Tram) Combs, Jr. was born 25 September 1924 in Riverview, Alabama, the son of Elisha Trammel, a cotton mill
superintendent, and LaFaye Hunt Combs. Elisha Jr. was educated in Southern schools until 1936, when his family moved to San
As a young man, Tram was primarily interested in botany, physics, and chemistry. While serving in the U.S. Army Air Force
he attended University of Washington in 1943 and 1944. He received a certificate of professional competence in meteorology
from University of Chicago in 1945. Combs left the air force in 1946 after serving as a meteorologist and becoming a second
lieutenant. For the next two years he attended Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (studying electronics
engineering) and the University of California, where he received an A.B. in physics in 1948.
From 1948-51 Combs worked as an oil chemist at the Tidewater-Associated Oil Company in Avon, California. Also during the late
1940's he began to write poetry under the guidance of Kenneth Rexroth, Lawrence Hart and Josephine Miles. Discovering his
inclination towards writing and the arts, Combs abruptly changed careers in 1948, becoming the owner and manager of Island
Studios, a photographic studio in the Bay Area.
In 1951 Combs moved to St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. There, using his talents as a bibliophile, linguist, and poet, he managed
and owned Tram Combs Books - a bookshop specializing in the literature and history of middle and southern Americas. Combs
also involved himself in community, cultural and political activities in St. Thomas. He served as a founder and trustee of
the Virgin Islands Art Museum (1955-56), helped to develop a Boy Scouts of America chapter, worked on building a local Society
for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and participated in disaster relief work. He was an active member of the Gay literary
community, both in the Virgin Islands and the U.S., and he regularly submitted articles and suggestions to Gay periodicals
Mattachine Review and
Combs earned the respect of noted contemporary poets such as Kenneth Rexroth and William Carlos Williams -- both of whom wrote
forewords to Combs' first book. However, Combs' writing never received public acclaim or commercial success. Some critics
complained of his verse's sentimental tone, overabundance of private references, and modifying clauses. Others praised his
verbal compression, his unusual typography, his detailed attention to nature and fellow human beings, and his honest, intense,
but quiet voice. As William Carlos Williams wrote, "It is in the construction of a verse about an island sunset, that the
reader will find what is hidden for him there; not what he thinks he will find but something surprising, amazingly simple
and altogether delightful."
Tram Combs Papers, MSS 123. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UCSD.
COLLECTION STORED OFF-SITE: ALLOW ONE WEEK FOR RETRIEVAL OF MATERIALS
Publication rights are held by the creator of the collection.
Subjects and Indexing Terms
American poetry--20th century
Gay liberation movement--United States
Photographic prints -- 20th Century.
Virgin Islands of the United States -- Photographs