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Guide to the Barry Gifford Papers, ca. 1970 -1997
Special Collections M0927  
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Barry Gifford Papers,
    Date (inclusive): ca. 1970 -1997
    Collection number: Special Collections M0927
    Creator: Gifford, Barry, via the University of Connecticut, Storrs
    Extent: 25 linear ft.
    Repository: Stanford University. Libraries. Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives.
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information

    Access Restrictions:

    One record storage box, currently on deposit, has been restricted.

    Publication Rights:

    Property rights reside with the repository. Literary rights reside with the creators of the documents or their heirs. To obtain permission to publish or reproduce, please contact the Public Services Librarian of the Dept. of Special Collections.

    Preferred Citation:

    [Identification of item] Barry Gifford Papers, M0927, Dept. of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, Calif.


    Poet, biographer, novelist, memoirist, and essayist, Barry Gifford was born October 18, 1946 in Chicago to Adolph, a pharmacist, and Dorothy Colby Gifford, a model. He was raised in Chicagoand in Key West and Tampa, Florida. Gifford attended the University of Missouri where he played baseball. After leaving college, Gifford served in the Air Force Reserves, and worked variously as a merchant seaman, musician, journalist, editor, and truck driver.
    Gifford, a prolific writer, has penned more than thirty books in a number of genres. His works include poetry, short fiction, novels, essays, biographies, memoir, and dramatic plays. Critics have acclaimed his work as colorful, quirky, and unique. Reviewer Jay Tolson (Los Angeles Times Book Review) praised Gifford for avoiding "facile or fashionable explanations [of the mystery of life]." Others have noted Gifford's frequent explorations of the boundaries of traditional literary genres, as when he blended memoir and fiction in a biography of his father. He also co-authored an unconventional "oral" biography of writer Jack Kerouac, basing the account almost entirely on interviews with Kerouac's friends and acquaintances. In the Saturday Review, Bruce Cook called the book "First rate" and admired its portrayal of "a sense of Kerouac the man." Gifford's study of Beat personalities continued with a volume of letters he edited called As Ever: The Collected Correspondence of Allen Ginsberg & Neal Cassady.
    Gifford's ability to evoke characters and moods in different regions of the country stems from his longtime fascination with language, one he traces back to his early years listening to his father's gangster friends in Chicago. Some of his work also reveals the impact of his self-identified literary influences: Jack London, Jack Kerouac, B. Traven, Ezra Pound, Emily Dickinson, Jean Rhys, Marcel Proust, and Gustave Flaubert.
    In the late 1980s, Gifford's fourth novel caught the eye of director David Lynch, who adapted it into the screenplay and motion picture of the same name. Wild at Heart won the Palme d'Or, the highest honor, at the Cannes Film Festival in 1990. The success of this film spurred the popularity of Gifford's novels. Gifford subsequently wrote increasingly surreal fiction about the characters from Wild at Heart. He has also collaborated with Lynch on several other projects, most recently on the screenplay Lost Highway and teleplays for HBO about a mysterious hotel in New Orleans.
    All told, Gifford has published more than thirty volumes. Among his many projects, The Devil Thumbs a Ride & other Unforgettable Films, is a collection of essays on film noir. He has also written 11 volumes of poetry, several short stories and novellas, a biography (with Lawrence Lee) of William Saroyan, and ten novels. They are Landscape with Traveler, Port Tropique, An Unfortunate Woman, Wild at Heart, 59° and Raining: The Story of Perdita Durango, A Good Man to Know, Arise and Walk, Baby Cat-Face, Perdita Durango, and, most recently, The Sinaloa Story.
    Gifford has been the recipient of the Maxwell Perkins Award from PEN, a Fellowship in Creative Writing for Fiction from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Art Directors Club of New York Merit Award, and a PEN Syndicate Fiction prize.
    Gifford lives with his wife, Mary Lou Nelson, and two children in Berkeley, California.


    1967 The Blood of the Parade. [poetry]
    Awarded Silverthorne Press Award for Poetry, (for The Blood of the Parade)
    1973 Coyote Tantras [poetry] A Boy's Novel [short stories / novellas]
    Kerouac's Town, photographs by Marshall Clements [essays]
    1974 Visiting Lecturer, SUNY Buffalo
    1976 Persimmons: Poems for Paintings [poetry]
    The Boy You Have Always Loved [poetry]
    Selected Poems of Francis Jammes [translation]
    1977 A Quinzaine in Return for a Portrait of Mary Sun [poetry]
    As Ever: The Collected Correspondence of Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady [editor]
    1978 Lives of the French Impressionist Painters [poetry]
    Jack's Book: An Oral Biography of Jack Kerouac, with Lawrence Lee [biography].
    Receives American Library Association Notable Book Award (for Jack's Book)
    1979 Horse Hauling Timber out of Hokkaido Forest [poetry]
    1980 Landscape With Traveler: The Pillow Book of Francis Reeves [novel]
    Port Tropique [novel]
    1981 Beautiful Phantoms: Selected Poems 1968-1980
    The Neighborhood of Baseball: A Personal History of the Chicago Cubs [memoir/nonfiction]
    1982 Francis Goes to the Seashore [short stories / novellas]
    National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for fiction
    1983 Maxwell Perkins Award, PEN
    1983 -1989 Cofounder and editor of Black Lizard Books, publishers of noir fiction
    1984 Saroyan: A Biography, with Lawrence Lee An Unfortunate Woman [novel]
    1985 PEN Syndicated Fiction Award
    1987 Giotto's Circle [poetry]
    1988 The Devil Thumbs a Ride and Other Unforgettable Films [essays] American Library Association
    Notable Book Award A Day at the Races: The Education of a Race Tracker [memoir/ nonfiction]
    1989 Ghosts No Horse Can Carry: Collected Poems 1967-1987
    1990 Wild at Heart: The Story of Sailor and Lula [novel]
    Consultant to the film adaptation of Wild At Heart by David Lynch
    1991 New Mysteries of Paris [short stories / novellas]
    1991, 1996 Sailor's Holiday: The Wild Life of Sailor and Lula [4 Novellas]
    1992 Night People [4 Novellas] 59° and Raining: The Story of Perdita Durango [novel]
    A Good Man to Know: A Semi-Documentary Fictional Memoir [novel]
    1993 Awarded Premio Brancati, Italy "Tricks" and "Blackout" [teleplays]
    1994 Arise and Walk [novel]
    1995 Baby Cat-Face: A Novel Hotel Room Trilogy [theater]
    Perdita Durango [Graphic Novels]
    1997 Lost Highway, with David Lynch [screenplay]
    Flaubert at Key West [poetry]
    The Phantom Father [memoir/nonfiction]
    1998 The Sinaloa Story [novel]


    The Barry Gifford Papers comprise more than forty-eight boxes of archival material, the vast majority of which is related to the publication process of Gifford's many books and spans the period 1970 -present. The largest subseries is composed of manuscript material, including correspondence with publishers and editors, typewritten and handwritten drafts of books, and research materials. As well, there are fifteen boxes of Gifford's notebooks, which contain partial drafts of books as well as individual poems, journal entries, and memoranda. There is also a significant file of correspondence, notable primarily for the six boxes of letters Gifford wrote to his longtime friend and associate, bookseller Marshall Clements. Finally, the collection contains approximately one hundred first editions of Gifford's own books, as well as copies of other books he used in his research.