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Meridel Le Sueur (1900-1996) was an American writer and activist.  She was the author of a novel, short stories, poems, essays and journalistic pieces. Her  writings reveal her commitment to  progressive political movements, and to documenting the lives and language of the agricultural Midwest, most notably the lives of women.

Some of her short stories were anthologized in O. Henry Prize Short Stories, and she published in journals such as The New Masses, The New Republic and many others.  In evoking her motivations as a writer and artist she once said  “I had a passion for writing down what was unknown, unrecorded, anonymous and lost.”

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Portrait of Meridel Le Sueur. Photographer unknown. From the Neala Schleuning Meridel Le Sueur Collection, Special Collections, University of Delaware Library, Newark Delaware.

Le Sueur’s literary activities were seriously hindered when she was blacklisted by the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1947.  Later, however, she resumed publishing and continued up until the time of her death.  Many of her works are still in print, including the collection Ripening: Selected Work 1927-1980.

In 1978 scholar Neala Schleuning produced a doctoral dissertation in American Studies, devoted to the life and work of Le Sueur. In researching the thesis (at the University of Minnesota) Schleuning had access to Le Sueur’s journals and other writings. The two women became friends, and worked together in the Twin Cities Women’s Film Collective, which produced the film My People are My Home in 1976. The film is narrated by Le Sueur, and features her poetry and prose, as well as interviews in which she describes her growth as a writer and activist.

Cover photo from DVD verison of “My People Are My Home.” From the Neala Schleuning Meridel Le Sueur Collection, Special Collections, University of Delaware Library, Newark Delaware.

 

Neala Schleuning went on to a very productive career as an academic. She taught Women’s Studies and American Studies,  and wrote four books. She also served as director of the women’s center at Mankato State University. 

University of Delaware Special Collections is the home of  both the Meridel Le Sueur Papers and the Neala Schleuning Meridel Le Sueur collection. The first collection contains some of Le Sueur’s poems and stories in manuscript form, letters, postcards, and photographs. The second collection contains correspondence, manuscripts, typescripts, published books, journals, periodicals, news clippings, photographs, artwork, audio tapes, video tapes, research materials and notes, and ephemera from Neala Schleuning’s research and archival collection, most of which was used toward her 1978 dissertation and subsequent book on the American writer Meridel Le Sueur.

The majority of information for this blog post came from the finding aids for the two collections.

Nineteenth-Century Biography: Josephine Brown’s Biography of An American Bondman (1856)

By Sarah Patterson

Josephine Brown’s Biography of An American Bondman, By His Daughter (1856) recounts the enslavement, entrepreneurial ventures and British lecture tours of William Wells Brown, the wildly popular nineteenth-century self-emancipated abolitionist and temperance activist. While teaching in Woolwich, England, Josephine Brown was motivated to pen a biography upon learning that Wells Brown’s latest memoir Narrative of William W. Brown, An American Slave, Written By Himself (1849) was out of print in the United States. Brown also believed that the book would enlighten her white peers in France on the nature of American slavery. A source of fascination among pro-abolition readers, Biography represented the success of a young African American woman living and working as a teacher abroad. Brown’s first and single extant book-length publication exhibits the textual malleability of the nineteenth-century biography and the ways such textual freedom allowed Black women writers to creatively remark upon race and politics.

 

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Cover of Biography of an American Bondman

 

Following conventions of nineteenth-century biographical writing, Biography of An American Bondman integrates reprinted passages from autobiographies, newspapers and legal documents into the author’s commentary on slavery and racial injustice in America. The majority of Biography follows Wells Brown through his early life as an enslaved youth in the South and his entrepreneurial endeavors as a self-educated fugitive after he escapes to the North. The remaining portion of the biography chronicles Wells Brown’s anti-slavery lectures and journalistic activities in Europe as well as the circumstances of his manumission in 1854.

Josephine Brown reprints content to support claims about racial injustice in America. Reviews published in popular English newspapers describe Wells Brown’s lecture tours and public appearances in London and largely attest to the fugitive’s “superior talents.” Chapter 21, for example, offers insight into how the English press portrayed nineteenth-century abolition lecture culture and the context of prominent debates about American slavery as understood by Europeans.

 

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Reviews of Biography of an American Bondman
Click to Enlarge

 

In another example, Josephine Brown reprints Wells Brown’s freedom papers to expose white American Christians as hypocrites and as smears upon America’s reputation in global affairs. Chapter 23 describes the legal process by which William Wells Brown is emancipated from slavery. Included in the chapter are reproductions of manumission documents from the Missouri County Circuit Court.

 

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Text of William Wells Brown’s manumission papers.
Click to enlarge.

 

At the end of this chapter, Brown declares: “The foregoing, reader, is a true copy of the bill of sale by which a democratic, Christian American sells his fellow-countryman for British gold.”

 

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From William Wells Brown’s manumission papers.
Click to enlarge.

Josephine Brown’s achievements constituted an anomaly during the 1850s. Nevertheless, scholars have rarely considered the ways Brown’s literature represents the perspective of a young Black abolitionist intellectual. As my scholarship seeks to show, Brown’s literature provides an important glimpse into the political opinions of a freeborn African American woman educator during one of the most transformative eras in American history.

 

Josephine Brown. Biography of an American Bondman. Special Collections, University of Delaware LIbrary

 

Sarah Patterson is a doctoral candidate in English at the University of Delaware. She is currently writing a dissertation about nineteenth-century Black educational philosophies, particularly among African American women educator-intellectuals. Reach Sarah at sarahp@udel.edu.

Joseph Glanvill’s Saducismus Triumphatus is a seventeenth century book on witchcraft and the supernatural. Glanvill’s book is primarily an argument in favor of his belief that witchcraft was a real and dangerous threat. Although witchcraft trials continued to occur throughout Europe, there was increasing skepticism about the reality of witchcraft and the supernatural, and Glanvill’s was one of many such polemics entered into the debate.

Saducismus Triumphatus

Glanvill, Joseph. Saducismus Triumphatus, Or, Full and Plain Evidence Concerning Witches and Apparitions. London: Printed for J. Collins …, and S. Lowndes 1681.

One of the most interesting parts of Glanvill’s book is a series of contemporary reports of supernatural happenings, which he had gathered together as evidence for his argument. These stories range from accounts of alleged witchcraft to reports of ghosts and haunted houses.

One such anecdote presents one of the earliest known examples of a poltergeist, now known as the “Drummer of Tedworth.” Beginning in 1663 a Wiltshire House had reportedly been plagued by the sound of phantom drumbeats. Other occurrences followed: claw marks would sometimes appear on the floor, residents would find themselves grabbed or struck by invisible forces, and so forth. Glanvill claimed to have personally witnessed such phenomena, although others who visited the house had no such luck. (One of the introductory passages notes that people were already accusing Glanvill of helping to fabricate the entire story).

In another episode, a man named Thomas Goddard claimed that he had seen the ghost of his father-in-law, Edward Avon. Avon’s ghost appeared several times, first offering money for his daughter (whom he had been cruel to in life), then offering more money to pay his debts, and finally to identify the unmarked grave a man that Avon had robbed and murdered.

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Glanvill, Joseph. Saducismus Triumphatus, Or, Full and Plain Evidence Concerning Witches and Apparitions. London: Printed for J. Collins …, and S. Lowndes 1681.

Part of what makes the book interesting today is the fact that it contains these stories that were, at one point, believed to be true, some of which constitute early examples of the same kinds of ghost stories that people continue to report to this day.

Today marks the 100th birthday of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (1914-1953), one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated young poets. His poignant poems about death, lost innocence, and memory such as “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night” (1951) engaged a huge variety of readers and listeners alike—from Beatle John Lennon, who placed his portrait on the iconic cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, to modernist poet T.S. Elliot, whose support helped publish his first collection of poetry.

Check out the Special Collections exhibition “Dylan Thomas at 100″ for some great items from our print and manuscript collections.

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Dylan Thomas directing a rehearsal of “Under Milk Wood” at the 92nd St. YM-YWHA Poetry Center,  May 1953. Photograph by Rollie McKenna. MSS 103 John Malcolm Brinnin papers.

 

 

 

Special Collections recently acquired two first editions of Dylan Thomas’ poems that were formerly owned by the scholar and professor William York Tindall. (Specifically, Thomas’ New Poems, 1942, as printed by New Directions; and his Selected Writings, 1946, also printed by New Directions). Tindall annotated these copies extensively, leaving behind a running commentary on virtually every single poem printed in them. Although best known for his scholarship on James Joyce, he also published a volume on Dylan Thomas, A Reader’s Guide to Dylan Thomas. The marginalia in Tindall’s copies of Thomas allows one to examine his critical and scholarly interpretations in process.

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Thomas, Dylan. Selected Writings. New York: New Directions, 1946.

Special Collections houses a great number of books with manuscript annotations, ranging from the fifteenth century to the present. Annotated books – regardless of whether or not their annotators can be identified – can provide a great deal of information about reading patterns and the ways in which texts were interpreted and received. In some cases, annotations also indicate how much (if it all) people actually read their books. (In this case, Tindall did in fact read his books in their entirety. There are plenty of other books in the collection that begin with very extensive marginal commentary, only to have those notations vanish midway or earlier, after the reader apparently lost interest in what he or she was reading).

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Thomas, Dylan. New Poems. Norfolk, Conn: New Directions, 1942.

 

Many of the annotated books in our collection are identified as such under the “notes” field in our library catalog. Useful search terms to use when looking for these items include “marginalia”, “annotations,” and “annotated.”

The papers that Dale E. Wolf and his wife, Clarice Wolf, donated to the University of Delaware Library document Dale’s service during World War II, his agricultural research and long career at the DuPont Company, his public service, his involvement in politics, and Clarice’s community service activities.

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Dale E. and Clarice Wolf during Dover Days, May 1988

To provide greater context to Dale’s political activity on behalf of the state of Delaware, the Wolfs also gave the Library access to eight scrapbooks spanning 1987 to 1993.

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Cover of Volume 1, 1987 May-1988 March

Dale E. Wolf began his service in 1987 when he was appointed by Governor Michael N.  Castle to the post of Director of the Delaware Development Office.  Wolf’s background as the former Vice President for Agricultural Products at the Du Pont Company informed his outlook which included “a long term interest in agriculture and the technology that could improve productivity on the farm.”

Article from News-Journal

“Q & A: Matchmaker for Delaware and Industry,” News-Journal, August 24, 1987

Governor Castle selected Wolf as his running mate for the 1988 election.  Both won their elections and Wolf served as Lieutenant Governor of Delaware until 1992.  In addition to his regular duties he chaired the Drug and Alcohol Abuse Coordinating Council and the Adult Literacy Council.  He was also appointed to the  U. S. Intergovernmental Policy Advisory Committee in 1989 by President George Bush.

Political Cartoon from News-Journal

Political cartoon addressing Wolf’s work on drug problems in Delaware, News-Journal, October 7, 1989

Dale E. Wolf also served briefly as Delaware Governor between the time when then-Governor Castle was sworn into the US House of Representatives and Governor-elect Thomas R. Carper began his term in January 1993.

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Dale E. Wolf sworn in as Governor of Delaware, January 2, 1993

Wolf chose not to run for a full tern as Governor or any other political office.  However, both he and Clarice Wolf remained highly involved in community outreach and service, often building on his work in areas such as adult literacy initiatives.

The scrapbooks were returned to the Wolf family, but they can be viewed through either the University of Delaware Library’s  digital collections or the online guide to the Dale E. and Clarice Wolf papers.

William Burroughs’s approach to the visual arts is nearly inextricable from his cut-up. The cut-up technique emerges from the serendipitous visual association of sections or lines of text, and Burroughs had long been creating visual collages using his own manuscripts. While in Tangier in the 1950s, he had begun making photo-collages, which only existed as photographs themselves. He wrote to Brion Gysin of this process: “Make collage of photographs, drawings, newspapers, etc. Now take picture of the collage. Now make collage of the pictures. Take-cut-take-cut, you got it?” Burroughs kept scrapbooks of collages, which combined handwritten notes, accounts of dreams, newspaper clippings, and photographs. One of these, Scrapbook 3, was published in 1979 in a limited edition of 30 copies by Claude Givaudan. Burroughs’s first public piece of art was the-now iconic dust jacket of the 1959 Olympia Press edition of The Naked Lunch. Calligraphic strokes repeat, blurring into one another, demonstrating the obvious influence of Gysin.

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The Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs. First edition. Paris: Olympia Press, 1959.

In the 1980s, Burroughs began experimenting with shotgun art by shooting pieces of wood and cans of paint and adding additional collage elements, silhouettes, or stencils. His first gallery show was at the Tony Shafrazi Art Gallery, New York, in 1987. The show sold out, despite criticism that Burroughs’s art was the gimmick of a writer who also painted. In response, Burroughs issued a formal statement about his art that emphasized the significance of random events and recalled his meditation on Gysin’s artwork, for which he strove to find a “port of entry.”

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“Disintegrating Spacecraft,” August 8, 1993
Inscribed to Paul Bowles from Burroughs. MSS 163s Paul Bowles papers supplement.

Between 1918 and 1922, Agnes P. Medill kept a scrapbook chronicling  her work to organize Boys’ and Girls’ Liberty Clubs on behalf of the Delaware College Extension Service.  The volume was donated to the University of Delaware Library by her children in 1975.  Now,  Special Collections and the Center for Digital Collections at the University of Delaware Library have made it possible to view the entire scrapbook online. This is a timely addition to the Library’s Digital Collections, as it honors the 100th anniversaries of both the start of World War I and the founding of the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension Program.

Inscription: "Agnes P. Medill - Ass't State Club Leader"

Inscription in Scrapbook:  “Agnes P. Medill – Ass’t State Club Leader”

The Newark, Delaware, native was born on September 8, 1887, the youngest of six siblings.  In the early years of the 20th century, Agnes worked as a teacher at the Newark Elementary School.  During World War I, she embarked on a more adventurous project, organizing patriotic clubs in Delaware’s  public schools. As Assistant State Club Leader, Agnes drove throughout the state in her automobile, a Model-T Ford, which she affectionately referred to as “Lizzie.”

Agnes & "Lizzie"

Agnes & “Lizzie”

Employed by the Delaware College Extension Service and working with agents from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agnes taught students about home economics, emphasizing the growth and preservation of food. Called “Liberty Clubs” because these activities were considered patriotic acts that supported the war effort, the groups took part in gardening, canning, baking, sewing, and raising animals.  She facilitated contests where Delaware College awarded prizes to club members for exemplary work.

Champion Pig Club Member

“Champion Pig Club Member”

Agnes filled her scrapbook with photographs, cheekily captioning photos of herself “Yours Truly.”  She provided a visual record of her club members and their activities, as well as regional or national Liberty Club gatherings and camp-outs.  At these events, the children often sang songs with lyrics about club activities  and patriotism, set to familiar tunes.

Club Song

“Club Song”

Agnes also gathered numerous clippings of club news and blank forms the clubs used. She included a card with the club pledge:  “I consecrate my Head, my Heart, my Hands and my Health, through Food Preservation and Food Conservation, to help win the world war and world peace.”

"No. 25 School Garden Club"

“No. 25 School Garden Club”

In 1923, Agnes married Joseph M. McVey. They lived on S. College Street in Newark and raised three children. She belonged to the First Presbyterian Church, the Newark New Century Club, and the Newark Senior Citizens Center. McVey Elementary School is named after her husband, a former president of the Board of Education of the Christina School District.

Agnes Medill

“Yours Truly”

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Edinburgh. The year is 1890. Having finished your duties as a clerk for the day, furiously copying legal documents until your hand, wrist, and arm are throbbing, you head home, not to rest, but for something else, something up your sleeve, something of value. You’ve been working. Grabbing a handful of documents that lay waiting just inside your door, you head back to town, hoping to catch a certain bookseller at a certain bookstore before he closes his doors for the evening. With a thump, and just in the nick of time, you lay the hefty manuscript on his counter. The bookseller smiles, maybe knowingly or maybe just kindly. A few exchanged words and minutes later, you too are smiling, relieved of your burden and exiting the bookstore with a pocket full of banknotes.

This may have been a slice of the life of one Alexander Howland Smith, at least for a few years, until the unassuming clerk was put on trial for “obtaining money by deceit.”  “Antique Smith,” as he was known, was a Scottish law clerk who produced literary forgeries circa 1888 to 1892. Around this time, Smith frequented the bookshops of Edinburgh, collecting books for their contemporary fly leaves on which he would produce his forgeries. Many of Smith’s dealings involved Edinburgh bookseller James Stillie, who may have been complicit in passing the forgeries. Though Smith reproduced an array of literary works, he forged the letters and manuscripts of Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns most frequently. Smith was eventually discovered, arrested, and sentenced to one year in prison in 1892.

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Forgery of “The Jolly Beggars” by Alexander Howland Smith. Circa 1888-1892. From MSS 099 945 Alexander Howland Smith papers regarding his forgery of Robert Burns’s The Jolly Beggars

 

University of Delaware Library Special Collections adds Antique Smith’s sixteen-page forgery of Robert Burns’s cantata “The Jolly Beggars,” to its broad holdings of forgeries and forgery-related material.  The manuscript is paired with documentation attempting to verify its authenticity which includes a dealer’s description by James Stillie, and a certificate from John Maitlan[d] stating he received the manuscript from Robert Burns.  The Alexander Howland Smith papers finding aid provides a detailed description of the collection.

 

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Bookseller James Stillie’s presentation letter. “It is not warranted, But it has Mr. Maitlan[d] certificate as got from Burns.” Stillie may have been complicit in passing Smith’s forgeries. Undated.

 

 

The Burroughs exhibition may be over, but there’s still plenty of time in 2014 to celebrate the gentleman junkie.

The Paul Bowles collection at the University of Delaware Library includes original letters from and relating to Burroughs, copies of Burroughs’s books, often inscribed to Bowles, and a host of other materials documenting the relationship of the two American writers.

The American expatriate author and composer Paul Bowles first met William S. Burroughs in Tangier in the spring of 1954. “He was living down in the medina, in a brothel,” says Bowles. “He lay in bed all day, shot heroin, and practiced sharp shooting with a pistol against the wall of his room. I saw the wall, all pockmarked with bullet holes. I said to him, ‘Why are you shooting your wall, Bill?’ He said, ‘It’s good practice.’ I didn’t get to know him until ’55, ’56. He was writing Naked Lunch.”  (Vanity Fair interview, 1985).  Burroughs saw Bowles regularly during these years. Bowles remained in Tangier, while Burroughs lived and traveled variously in Paris, London, New York, and eventually Lawrence, Kansas.  They admired each other’s writing, shared many mutual friends, and maintained a regular correspondence until Burroughs’s death in August 1997.

One of the pieces of correspondence from the Paul Bowles paper supplement is the postcard Burroughs sent Bowles in February 1997.  The postcard reproduces a (now famous) 1961 photograph taken in the garden of Burroughs’s Tangier apartment. Burroughs had stayed at the Villa Muniria in Tangier between 1956 and 1958 during the productive period during which he feverishly wrote much of what became Naked Lunch, as well as parts of The Soft Machine and The Ticket That Exploded. In The Adding Machine, Burroughs refers to the summer of 1961 as the “psychedelic summer.”

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Left to right: Peter Orlovsky (seated), Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Alan Ansen, Bowles (seated), Gregory Corso, Ian Sommerville. (MSS 163s Paul Bowles papers supplement)

“Nostalgic photo when all concerned were in better health,” Burroughs wrote. “L to right. Peter Orlovsky: nuts, me with a leaky heart valve, Allen Ginsberg, kidney stones, Alan Ansen, arthritic, Gregory [Corso], quite reclusive. Ian Sommerville dead in car crash.” Burroughs also wishes Bowles good health following a second surgery on his leg and confirms he does have central heat and air conditioning in his home in Lawrence, Kansas.

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