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Register of the Susan Howe Papers MSS 201
MSS 201  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Biography
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Acquisition Information
  • Access

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Susan Howe Papers
    Identifier/Call Number: MSS 201
    Contributing Institution: Mandeville Special Collections Library
    9500 Gilman Drive
    La Jolla, California, 92093-0175
    Language of Material: English
    Physical Description: 28.4 Linear feet (68 archives boxes, 4 card file boxes, 6 oversize folders)
    Date (inclusive): 1942 - 2000
    Abstract: Papers of Susan Howe, American poet. The papers primarily document Howe's literary correspondence, poetry manuscripts, manuscripts of readings and talks, personal and working journals and art/poetry installations dating from the early 1970s to the mid-1980s. A small group of personal and family materials is also included. The bulk of the collection consists of Howe's working manuscripts and journals. The accession processed in 2003 continues to document Susan Howe's career as a writer and professor (primarily at the State University of New York at Buffalo), as well as elements of her personal life. The bulk of the materials date from 1990 to 1997 with some biographical and correspondence files from 1953 to 1989.
    Creator: Howe, Susan, 1937-

    Scope and Content of Collection

    Accession Processed in 1991
    The SUSAN HOWE PAPERS contain correspondence, poetry manuscripts, typescripts and notes for readings and talks, personal and working journals, art/poetry installations and a selection of tapes from Howe's WBAI Radio program, "Poetry." Most of the collection dates from the early 1970s to the mid-1980s. The exceptions to Howe's work from this period are a few personal journals and some earlier correspondence from Howe's family: World War II letters from Howe's father, Harvard Law School professor Mark DeWolfe Howe, personal journals kept by Howe while visiting Ireland in the 1950s, and a scrapbook documenting Howe's early career as a young actress. The bulk of the collection rests in the working manuscripts of Howe's books Articulation of Sound Forms in Time (1986), Cabbage Gardens (1979), Defenestration of Prague (1983), Hinge Picture (1974), The Liberties (1980), My Emily Dickinson (1985), Pythagorean Silence (1982), and Secret History of the Dividing Line (1978), along with other poetic experiments, and extensive correspondence from selected poets and critics: Lyn Hejinian, George Butterick, John Taggart, Ian Hamilton Finlay, among others.
    The extensive collection of working notebooks, comprising forty-seven 4x5 black hardback sketchbooks dating from 1974-1988, highlight the collection and mark one of the intersections between Howe's careers as a visual artist and as a poet. Also featured in the collection are over one hundred tape recordings of Howe's late 1970s WBAI Radio program, "Poetry," which includes interviews and readings with many interesting poets of the late 20th century. The collection is arranged in five series: 1) CORRESPONDENCE, 2) WRITINGS, 3) PHOTOGRAPHS AND EPHEMERA, 4) TAPE RECORDINGS and 5) ORIGINALS OF PRESERVATION PHOTOCOPIES.
    Howe's correspondence, as represented in the CORRESPONDENCE series, is as noteworthy for its absences as for its inclusions. There are several dozen letters from each of a few notable correspondents--specifically George Butterick, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Lyn Hejinian, and John Taggart--but complete silence from other poets who are well known as colleagues and peers of Howe's. These absences leave broad room for speculations upon both Howe's and other contemporary poet's attitudes toward the institutionalization of poetic papers.
    There are also a few novelty letters from Charles Reznikoff, May Sarton, Orson Welles, and John Wheelock, among others, relating to their involvement in Howe's 1970s WBAI Radio program, "Poetry." Over one hundred selections from these broadcasts are included in the collection.
    A xerox copy of Susan Howe's letter to Richard Sewell, detailing her important speculations about Emily Dickinson's "Master Letters," and Sewell's response, along with some brief correspondence with Ralph Franklin, another Dickinson scholar, add important cornerstones not only to Howe's involvement with Dickinson scholarship but Dickinson scholarship in general.
    The WRITINGS series is comprised of four main subseries: A) Working Manuscripts, B) Readings and Talks, C) Journals, and D) Installations. These are arranged alphabetically with the exception of the sketchbook working journals, which are arranged chronologically.
    A) In the Working Manuscripts subseries, every attempt has been made to maintain the order in which they were received, except for the alphabetization according to the predominant work in a particular folder. This is important because Howe sometimes seems to work on more than one manuscript at the same time. For example, Defenestration of Prague and Liberties manuscripts are often contained in the same folder, as are manuscripts of Chanting at the Crystal Sea and Secret History of the Dividing Line.
    B) Notes for many of Howe's readings and talks from the middle to late 80s are contained in the subseries by that name. These include talks at New College, at San Jose State's 1986 Emily Dickinson/HD conference, a Duncan Memorial talk, among others.
    C) The Journals subseries is comprised of two smaller subseries: "Diaries/Personal Journals," and "Working Journals." The "Diaries/Personals Journals" includes some mid-1950s journals kept by Howe during trips to Ireland that document the establishment of her ongoing relationship and pilgrimages to Ireland, along with various working notebooks containing notes for poetry, personal commentary and other daily notation. The "Working Journals" comprise an interesting collection of working poetry sketchbooks dating from 1974-1988 that illustrate Howe's interest in the relationships between poetry and visual arts.
    D) The work, exhibition notes, and photographs of some of Howe's installation exhibitions, made up of poetry and photographs, are contained in the "Installations" subseries.
    The PHOTOGRAPHS AND EPHEMERA series contains a scrapbook documenting Howe's early acting career, and a copy of St. Genevieve Watching Over Paris, by Leonard Gontarek, that features a cover designed by Howe.
    Selections from Howe's late 1970s radio program "Poetry" make up the TAPE RECORDINGS series. These recorded interviews and readings represent some of the most interesting and experimental work of poets of this important time period. Included in this group is an interview and reading with Bruce Andrews and Charles Bernstein in which they discuss their serial L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, readings by Bernadette Mayer, Ron Padgett, Robert Creeley, Lyn Hejinian, and Robert Lax, only to name a few. Memorial readings for R.D. Laing and John Wheelright, as well as readings by May Sarton, Helen Adam, John Hall Wheelock, and some WBAI Radio archive tapes of readings by Jack Spicer, George Oppen, Charles Reznikoff, and Charles Olson locate the contemporary poets in this series within a poetic tradition. A discussion by William Eric Williams concerning his relationship with his father and their homelife provides important information for William Carlos Williams scholarship. These tapes can be referenced through the ANP Tapes Listening Series, ANP SPL-1014 through ANP SPL-1113.
    Folder titles reflect predesignated headings in as many cases as are possible.
    Brittle and high-acid content materials have been photocopied onto acid-free paper. The copies have been substituted and the originals have been placed in series order in ORIGINALS OF PRESERVATION PHOTOCOPIES.
    Accession Processed in 2003
    The accession processed in 2003 contains some materials which supplement the first accession, as well as new materials produced in the years since the first accession. It contains correspondence, notebooks, manuscripts, teaching materials, and early biographical materials, as well as a small amount of material relating to Howe's second husband, the sculptor, David von Schlegell (1920-1992). The bulk of the collection dates from the 1990s and contains drafts, manuscripts, production materials, and translations of her work from this period, published in Singularities (1990), The Non-Conformist's Memorial (1993), and Pierce Arrow (1999). Some of the early drafts of this work are contained in the notebooks which date from 1972 to 1997. Additionally, there is a significant amount of research material -- photocopies of archival documents and from books, often marked with Howe's marginal notes -- both for her written work and for her work as a professor of literature at the State University of New York at Buffalo. The collection also features teaching materials for specific classes, including syllabi, lecture notes and reading materials.
    The CORRESPONDENCE series, arranged alphabetically, contains correspondence with a number of writers, scholars, publishers, friends, and family. Though some of Howe's outgoing letters are included, most of the materials are incoming letters. While some of this series simply supplements the correspondence in the first accession, especially George Butterick, Lyn Hejinian, Robert Lax, Maureen Owen, Richard Sewell, and John Taggart, it also contains numerous new correspondents including Susan Bee, Charles Bernstein, Norman Brown, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Dominic Fourcade, Kathleen Fraser, and Fanny Howe.
    The NOTEBOOKS series is arranged in two subseries: A) Personal Diaries and B) Working Sketchbook Journals. At the beginning of the first subseries is a list of notebooks and journals with dates and some description of the contents of the notebooks. Since many of the notebooks are not marked with explicit dates, educated guesses have been made as to their chronology and approximate dates, while Howe's list has been left as a resource for researchers looking for more information.
    A) The Personal Diaries subseries consists of spiral notebooks dating from 1978 to 1997, containing research notes, quotations, and some diaristic writing. Some of these notebooks also contain notes for WBAI and for classes which Howe taught.
    B) The Working Sketchbook Journals subseries consists of twelve sketchbooks, dating from 1971, and continuously from 1988 to 1997. These notebooks contain many early drafts of material included in Howe's published works.
    The WRITINGS series is one of the most substantial series in this accession and consists of materials which supplement those included in the first accession, as well as a significant amount of new materials produced and published in the 1990s. The series is arranged in six subseries: A) Early Writings, B) Reviews, C) Published Writings, D) Readings and Lectures, E) Unpublished and Miscellaneous, and F) Research Materials.
    A) The Early Writings subseries is organized chronologically, and consists of works produced when Howe was a child in the 1940s and early 1950s, as well as her earliest work from the late 1960s when she began to make the transition from producing visual works to writing texts.
    B) The Reviews subseries is organized alphabetically by the title of each review, most of which were produced in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The subseries consists of reviews published mostly in art journals and magazines.
    C) The Published Writings subseries is organized chronologically by the publication date of each book or article. While it contains some materials which supplement the first accession -- loose notes or correspondence relating to works published in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s -- the larger part of this subseries consists of materials relating to works published in the 1990s, particularly Singularities (1990), The Non-Conformist's Memorial (1993), The Birthmark (1993), and "Sorting Facts, or, Nineteen Ways of Looking at Marker."
    D) The Readings and Lectures subseries is arranged alphabetically according to the organization which sponsored the event. It consists of notes and materials which Howe used for various readings, lectures, panels, and introductions to other writers' talks and readings. It also contains a folder of announcements and flyers, arranged in chronological order, which provides some overview of the range of Howe's public readings in the 1980s and 1990s. Additional evidence of these events is contained in the CORRESPONDENCE series (5), as well as in the PUBLISHED WRITINGS (8C), where reading copies of particular published works are located with other materials related to those works.
    E) The Unpublished and Miscellaneous subseries is arranged in chronological order, and consists of materials which have not been published, or whose publication has not been located. Howe labeled some of these folders as "Outtakes," and so it is probably that she produced much of this material concurrently with materials which made it into various published works.
    F) The Research Materials subseries consists of photocopies of archival materials, as well as some photocopies of articles and from books. Howe's groupings have been maintained as much as possible, and as such, some folders contain materials grouped according to her descriptions (e.g. "19th Century American"). The subseries is arranged alphabetically according to the author's last name or by Howe's folder-titles.
    These materials were presumably used in preparation both for teaching and for writing and some of it is marked with Howe's marginalia and notes. Howe's own interest in other writers' marginalia (i.e. notes in the margins of books by other authors) makes this subseries potentially very interesting to researchers, poets and historians interested in the author's relationship to others' texts. Most fascinating, perhaps, is Howe's copy of Melville's marginalia, marked with Howe's own marginalia. This work presumably formed the background for Howe's work, "Melville's Marginalia," published in The Non-Conformist's Memorial (1993), as well as other work.
    While a significant amount of Howe's early work as a visual artist is contained in the first accession, the VISUAL MATERIALS series contains some visual works on paper, as well as slides and photographs of Howe's installation entitled "Walls," made up of bits of text (poetry and prose), photographs and sketches. This series is arranged chronologically, and contains work produced between 1959 and 1971.
    The TEACHING MATERIALS series is arranged in five subseries: A) Stanford University, B) State University of New York at Buffalo, C) Temple University, D) University of Denver, and E) Miscellaneous.
    A) The Stanford University subseries contains Howe's teaching materials for classes at Stanford University in 1997.
    B) The State University of New York at Buffalo subseries is the most substantial, as it relates to Howe's work as a professor at SUNY Buffalo where she has taught since 1988, and where she has held a full professorship since 1991. Included here are syllabi, reading materials and lecture notes, as well as some departmental correspondence relating to the Poetics Program (founded in 1991).
    C) The Temple University subseries consists of materials related to Howe's teaching at Temple University 1990-1991. It includes syllabi, course materials and some correspondence.
    D) The University of Denver subseries consists of materials related to Howe's teaching at University of Denver in 1992. It includes lecture notes and some correspondence.
    E) The Miscellaneous subseries includes teaching materials where the particular institution and class have not been identified. It is likely that much of this material -- as well as material included in the "Research" subseries (8F) of WRITINGS -- was used for more than one class and/or writing project. Howe's groupings have been maintained where possible and have been used to arrange the subseries alphabetically.
    The INTERVIEWS AND CRITICISM series is arranged alphabetically by the author's last name, and consists of critical works on Howe.
    The WBAI RADIO MATERIALS series, arranged alphabetically, supplements the first accession's large collection of tape recordings of Howe's radio program from the late 1970s featuring many important authors. Contained in this series is correspondence, some of Howe's preparation notes for interviews, grant applications and proposals, as well as administrative records.
    This series is arranged in alphabetical order and consists of photographs of Howe's second husband, David von Schlegell and of his sculptures, as well as letters of condolence from friends and family sent to Howe when von Schlegell died in 1992. Howe's separation of these letters into "answered" and "unanswered" have been maintained. Additional materials relating to David von Schlegell can be found in the CORRESPONDENCE series where letters between him and Howe, and between them and their children are located. David von Schlegell's personal papers and documentation of his career as a sculptor are housed at the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art.
    The BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS AND EPHEMERA series contains various materials related to Howe's childhood including report cards, drawings, theater materials, photographs of Howe, as well as a number of photographs of Howe's family, many of whom are well-known scholars, writers and artists. Also included are a several calendars and Howe's C.V.s and resumes. Perhaps most interesting are the folders of materials which Howe had hanging on her walls in different periods -- photographs, quotations and sketches -- which suggest a continuing connection between her early installation work (entitled "Walls"), and her mature work as a literary historian and poet. This series is arranged in alphabetical order.
    The ORIGINALS OF PRESERVATION PHOTOCOPIES series contains the originals of brittle or high acid content documents that have been photocopied.


    Born in 1937, Susan Howe's career as a poet grew from a painting and drawing career and began, with the exception of publications of earlier poems in serials, with the 1974 edition of Hinge Picture (New York, Telephone Books). Closely associated with the late 1970s and 1980s Language Poets' movement, Susan Howe's poetry and scholarship are most accurately characterized as language based and experimental. Howe's early training and careers in drama and visual arts--she was an actress and an assistant stage designer at the Gate Theatre in Dublin and graduated from the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts in 1961--are reflected in the dramatic sections of her poems, as in The Liberties, and in her attention to the visual aspect of the page. Her mother, Mary Manning Howe, an Irish actress and playwright, and her father, Mark DeWolfe Howe, a Harvard Law School professor, each appear as influences in her poetry. Much of the subject and location of her work--her close affinity with Emily Dickinson and early American history, as in Articulation of Sound Forms in Time, her interest in Jonathan Swift's Irish residency in The Liberties--reveals Howe's Irish ancestry combined with hard-biting New England literary heritage and politics.
    Howe's activities as a lecturer and reader are numerous. In the late 1970s, Howe produced a radio talk show for WBAI radio in which she interviewed and hosted a wide range of American and European poets. In 1980 Howe received the Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award for Secret History of the Dividing Line and again in 1987 for My Emily Dickinson. In 1985 she was one of ten American poets at the New Poetics Colloquium in Vancouver, British Columbia, where she returned in 1987 as visiting artist-in-residence. Howe was one of five American poets at the Rencontres Internationales de Poésie Contemporaine in Tarascon, France, 1988, as well as a Butler fellow in the Department of English at SUNY, Buffalo, also in 1988.
    In 1991, Howe was appointed as a full professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo, where she has taught numerous classes on American literature and creative writing. She has received two American Book Awards from the Before Columbus Foundation and in 1996 she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 1999 she was elected to the Academy of American Poets.
    While Howe has continued to produce books of poetry and literary-historical criticism, her work crosses the boundaries of genres: her poetry stems from her archival research in literary history, while her literary scholarship is poetic and personal. For example, her 1993 book, The Birth-mark: Unsettling the Wilderness in American Literary History (named an "International Book of the Year" by the Times Literary Supplement), is a collection of scholarly essays on literary history. Nonetheless, the essays contain personal anecdotes, marginal quotations from authors and poetic observations on the nature of literary historical scholarship. Similarly, in her book, The Non-Conformist's Memorial (1993), Howe interweaves the marginal words of literary figures such as Melville and Shelley with her own poetic lines.
    For more biographical information, see Susan Howe's Singularities, "About the Author" (Hanover, University Press of New England, 1990), and the following website:

    Publication Rights

    Publication rights are held by the creator of the collection.

    Preferred Citation

    Susan Howe Papers, MSS 201. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UCSD.

    Acquisition Information

    Not Available


    The diaries dated 1977 - 1981 and located in Box 11, Folders 4-8 are restricted; access requires the written permission of Susan Howe. The letters written by Mary Manning Howe are restricted; access requires the written permission of Susan Howe and Fanny Howe. Letters of recommendation located in Box 65, Folder 10 and Box 69, Folder 4 are restricted in accordance with state and federal law until 2075. Also, original audiocassette recordings in the collection are restricted. Patrons must request listener copies be produced.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Finlay, Ian Hamilton
    Lax, Robert
    MacLeish, Archibald, 1892-1982
    Sarton, May, 1912-1995
    WBAI radio
    American poetry--20th century
    Photographic prints -- 20th Century.
    Women poets--United States