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Alex Smith Papers
MSS 0070  
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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: Smith, Alexander, 1948-1987
    Title: Alex Smith Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1965-1987
    Extent: 11.80 linear feet (29 archives boxes and 1 flat box)
    Abstract: Papers of Alex Smith, poet, writer, teacher and bibliographer. The collection includes typescripts of hundreds of Smith's poems, manuscripts of his short stories and long poems, and correspondence with a number of important literary figures including: Steve Benson, Alan Bernheimer, George Butterick, Joan Hall, and Kit Robinson. The items in the collection are dated 1965 to 1987 with the bulk of the material dating in the 1970s. The collection occupies 11.8 feet and is arranged in seven series: 1) CORRESPONDENCE, 2) JOURNALS, 3) WRITINGS BY SMITH, 4) ACADEMIC MATERIALS, 5) MISCELLANEOUS DOCUMENTS, 6) EPHEMERA, and 7) WRITINGS BY OTHERS. Not present in the collection are materials pertaining to Smith's bibliography of Frank O'Hara's literary production.
    Repository: University of California, San Diego. Geisel Library. Mandeville Special Collections Library.
    La Jolla, California 92093-0175
    Collection number: MSS 0070
    Language of Material: Collection materials in English


    Collection is open for research.

    Acquisition Information

    Not Available

    Preferred Citation

    Alex Smith Papers, MSS 0070. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UCSD.

    Publication Rights

    Publication rights are held by the creator of the collection.


    Alexander Dick Smith, Jr.--poet, writer, teacher and bibliographer--was born on October 10, 1948, in Portland, Maine, to Maryrose Ann Delano Smith and Alexander Dick Smith, Sr. His family moved to Groton, Connecticut, where Smith attended Robert E. Fitch Sr. High School for the years 1960-1966.
    After finishing high school, Smith went directly to Yale University in 1966. There, he met fellow poets Rodger Kamenetz, Alan Bernheimer, and Kit Robinson, with whom he maintained close ties with his life, exchanging poetry, ideas and criticism with them.
    After graduating from Yale University and a cross-country bicycle trip to San Francisco, Smith returned to Groton, Conn., and accepted a position as substitute teacher in the local school system. He proved to be an excellent teacher, and he received several offers for full-time teaching positions. However, he declined so that he could return to San Francisco where he felt he could best pursue his love of writing. Kit Robinson, Alan Bernheimer, Lyn Hejinian, and Bill Graves were a few of many poets Smith knew who were living and thriving in San Francisco and writing a style of poetry that Alex very much wanted to understand and practice himself. He lived in San Francisco for half a year, during which time he edited the only issue published of NADINE, a poetry magazine with work from writers all over the country, including Merill Gilfillan, Alan Bernheimer, Steve Benson and Rodger Kamenetz, as well as some of Smith's own work.
    Smith decided his writing would benefit from more education; thus, in 1973, he enrolled as a graduate student in the English Department at the University of Connecticut . At UConn, Smith studied Chaucer, modern and post-modern narrative, and Greek. In addition to his studies, Smith was also occupied with a graduate assistant position. During the three summers between 1974 and 1976, he worked as a research and editorial assistant to George Butterick on THE JOURNAL OF THE CHARLES OLSON ARCHIVE. In 1976, Smith was awarded a monetary grant from the University of Connecticut's Computer Center, which allowed him to complete FRANK O'HARA: A COMPREHENSIVE BIBLIOGRAPHY (1979) as well as increase his computer skills.
    Throughout graduate school, Alex wrote and published poetry. In 1975, 1977 and 1978, he won first prize in the Wallace Stevens Poetry Contest. Alex's writing style had undergone a change by the time he entered graduate school. His earlier writing was heavily influenced by the New York School and was visual, iconographic, light, and humorous. As he grew older, his poems began to grow darker. Influenced by Walt Whitman and Wallace Stevens, Smith began to write what he called narrative poems--descriptions of real situations, with people interacting with each other, often very unhappily. Later, Smith began to use spelling and diction that were reminiscent of a Shakespearean and Elizabethan age. He wrote extremely long poems, such as "The Four Seasons," which were often a rewriting of works by Shakespeare. Smith called these poems "Snets."
    In Smith's letters to his friends, beginning around 1976, one can see a developing disdain for academia. He often speaks of his apathetic students, with whom he became increasingly frustrated due to their seeming indifference. Smith himself was a stellar student, maintaining straight A's in all of his courses, and he had a dwindling tolerance for bored and boring students. Thus, rather than earn his PhD and remain in academia, Smith left the University in 1980 to pursue a career in computer programming.
    In 1980, Smith was hired as a mail-room clerk for the New England Research Application Center (NERAC), a NASA sponsored agency that specialized in computer assisted information retrieval for business and industry. He moved up rapidly within the company and, by the end of 1981, was already a computer programmer. He stayed with NERAC until 1987, earning several more promotions. Smith never put aside his love of writing poetry, often composing poems while at work. Many of his poems from the eighties are scribbled on scraps of NERAC office paper.
    In March or April of 1987, Smith moved with Tom Yankowski, Smith's companion for more than ten years, to the community of Hillcrest in San Diego, California. By this time, Alex had suffered from AIDS, and he attempted simply to focus on maintaining his health and continuing his writing. In July of 1987, Rodger Kamenetz, a classmate from Yale, helped Smith to publish his only collected book of poems titled COLONIZING THE RED PLANET. Smith died of cancer in September of 1987.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The Alex Smith Papers consist of correspondence, journals, typescripts of prose and poems, academic materials and writings by others. The materials span the years 1965-1987, with the bulk of the items dating in the 1970s. The collection occupies 11.8 linear feet and is arranged in seven series. 1) CORRESPONDENCE, 2) JOURNALS, 3) WRITINGS BY SMITH, 4) ACADEMIC MATERIALS, 5) MISCELLANEOUS DOCUMENTS, 6) EPHEMERA,and 7) WRITINGS BY OTHERS.
    The collection is particularly valuable to the researcher interested in Alex Smith's literary production. Also of interest is the correspondence series, which contains letters from several important American poets including Steve Benson, Alan Bernheimer, George Butterick, Joan Hall, and Kit Robinson. Notably missing in this collection are the papers related to the scholarly work "Frank O'Hara; A Comprehensive Bibliography" (1979) that Smith compiled while a graduate student at the University of Connecticut.
    The first series, CORRESPONDENCE, is divided into two subseries. Family Correspondence (1A) contains letters from Smith's immediate family that date between 1976-1987. General Correspondence (1B) contains letters written to and, in many cases, by Smith. The letters from Steve Benson, Alan Bernheimer, Tom Devine, Bill Graves, and Joan Joffe Hall make up a significant portion of this subseries. Also included are letters from Donald Allen and Kit Robinson. The general correspondence subseries is arranged first alphabetically by correspondent and then chronologically within the folders. Smith's outgoing letters are filed with the pertinent incoming correspondence.
    The second series, JOURNALS, contains the journals that Smith kept between the years 1965 and 1987. These journals record ideas for poems and stories, musings, and Smith's responses to events and people. Many of the journals are pocket-sized note books that Alex could carry with him and jot down his thoughts whenever he felt the urge. In most cases, Smith did not date the individual entries in his journals. Instead, he tended to indicate the inclusive dates of a notebook of its cover. This series has been arranged chronologically.
    The third series, WRITINGS BY SMITH, is the largest series of the collection and is arranged in three subseries. Most of the material is undated; therefore, all of the items in this series have been arranged alphabetically by title or by first line of the work. The first subseries, Published Writings (3A), contains typescripts, hand-written drafts, and, in many instances, the published version of Smith's poem or article. Published poems make up the bulk of this subseries. Also included are rock concert reviews Smith wrote for THE ADVOCATE and CONNECTICUT DAILY NEWS, as well as an article he wrote for the San Diego newspaper UPDATE recounting his struggle of living with AIDS.
    The second subseries, Unpublished Poetry collections, etc., is comprised of collections of poems and narrative gathered together in a notebook or some other form under a single title. The subseries also includes rejection letters from publishers, ideas for narratives, and lists of poems written by Smith. The third subseries, Drafts of Unpublished Poems, is arranged alphabetically by the poem's title or first line.
    Unpublished Writings, is arranged in two parts, short stories and poetry books followed by drafts of individual poems.
    The fourth series, ACADEMIC MATERIALS, contains notes, papers, and teaching materials that Smith accrued while at Yale and the University of Connecticut. These items span the years 1966-1980. The bulk of the material is from Smith's years as a graduate student at the University of Connecticut (1973-1980). These items are arranged in three subseries. The first subseries is Course Notes (4A), and it contains lecture notes taken by Smith. These are arranged alphabetically by course subject. The second subseries is Course Papers and Exams (4B), and it is arranged alphabetically by the title of paper or the subject of the exam. The third subseries, Teaching Materials (4C), contains handouts, ideas for class discussions, and notes on topics covered in the course. These items are arranged alphabetically by subject.
    The fifth series, MISCELLANEOUS DOCUMENTS, contains items such as job applications, wills, receipts, and date books. These items span the years 1970-1987 and are arranged alphabetically by subject.
    The sixth series, EPHEMERA, consists of items of a personal nature. Included are newspaper clippings, brochures from exhibits, ticket stubs, sketches, and other paper mementos from events and places Smith attended. Most of the items in this series are filed under Miscellaneous Ephemera because the individual items, for the most part, are unrelated to each other. This series is arranged alphabetically by subject.
    The seventh series, WRITINGS BY OTHERS, contains Smith's collection of essays, short stories, and collections of poetry written by other people. Many of the items have been inscribed by Smith. This series is arranged alphabetically by author.

    Indexing Terms

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


    Smith, Alexander, 1948-1987 -- Archives
    AIDS (Disease) -- United States
    American poetry -- 20th century
    Gay men -- United States
    Gays' writings


    Smith, Alexander, 1948-1987. -- Colonizing the red planet
    Benson, Steve, 1949- , -- correspondent
    Bernheimer, Alan, 1948- , -- correspondent
    Bertholf, Robert J., -- correspondent
    Boer, Charles, 1939- , -- correspondent
    Butterick, George F., -- correspondent
    Button, John, -- correspondent
    Kamenetz, Rodger, 1950- , -- correspondent
    Robinson, Kit, 1949- , -- correspondent
    Yankowski, Tom, -- correspondent