Impessive literary archive Merrill collection expanded

In a move to bolster its already impressive literary archive of poet James Merrill (1926-1995), University Libraries recently purchased 240 additional letters, manuscripts, rare books, signed first editions and other items from Christie’s auction house.

The items came from the estate of Jonathan Goodwin, a book collector who was a neighbor of Merrill’s in Stonington, Conn. Goodwin died earlier this year.

“While Merrill donated the bulk of the Merrill collection while he was alive, we have at times purchased things from book and manuscript dealers or from friends of Merrill’s who held additional material,” said Anne Posega, head of Special Collections. “We are trying to make the collection as complete as possible, so although we don’t normally buy at auction, it was the only way to get this particular group of materials.”

The lot includes a poem he wrote for the 10th wedding anniversary of some friends; a poetry collection that, written at 16 while in high school, was published privately by his father; poems written while attending Amherst College; and several letters he wrote in the 1940s to Amherst classmate William Burford.

Additionally, the collection features manuscripts of one of Merrill’s most celebrated works, the 1982 trilogy The Changing Light at Sandover.

“These revised typescript drafts will complement what we already have,” Posega said. “They will fill in gaps in Merrill’s creative process of writing and revision. In addition, the books and broadsides in this acquisition include some very scarce pieces.”

University Libraries established the Merrill archive in the 1960s. It now includes approximately 35,000 items, including thousands of pages of notebooks, galley proofs and revised worksheets.

The Merrill archive is a cornerstone of the libraries’ Modern Literature Collections, which contains works created or collected by some 125 20th-century American, English or Irish writers.

In 1956, Merrill — the son of Charles Merrill, co-founder of the brokerage firm Merrill Lynch — used a portion of his inheritance to found the Ingram Merrill Foun-dation, which has since awarded grants to hundreds of artists and writers.

Merrill’s awards include two National Book Awards in Poetry, for Nights and Days (1965) and Mirabell (1978); the Bollingen Prize for Braving the Elements (1972); a Pulitzer Prize for Divine Comedies (composed with the help of a Ouija board; 1976); the National Book Critics Circle Award for The Changing Light at Sandover (1982); and the first Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry awarded by the Library of Congress for The Inner Room (1988).

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