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Special Collections Library
104 Paterno Library
University Park, PA 16802

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Photograph of Kenneth Burke

The Kenneth Burke Papers contain the personal and professional papers of the philosopher of language Kenneth Duva Burke (1897-1993). Spanning over eight decades, from 1906 to 1993, the multifaceted papers illuminate not only the personal and intellectual life of Burke, but also the lives of his correspondents, many of them major twentieth-century figures. The papers are housed in the Rare Books and Manuscripts division of the Special Collection Library at The Pennsylvania State University Libraries.

The Kenneth Burke Papers consist of three collections. The first Burke collection, Burke-1, dating from 1906 to 1961, was purchased by The Pennsylvania State University Libraries from Kenneth Burke in 1974. Although it includes a few manuscripts, it is primarily a correspondence file of letters written to Burke. It measures twelve linear feet.

The Pennsylvania State University Libraries purchased the second Burke collection, Burke-2, from the Kenneth Burke Literary Estate in 2005. This collection dates from 1950 until Burke’s death in 1993, with the bulk of its correspondence written between 1960 and 1987. In addition to including the original letters of Burke’s many correspondents, Burke-2 includes interfiled copies of Burke’s own letters, as well as newspaper clippings, article reprints, a few typescripts, many poems, and several photographs. Burke-2, more than double the size of Burke-1, measures twenty-five linear feet.

Both Burke-1 and Burke-2 follow Burke’s original order, chronological and then alphabetical by the correspondents' last names. The collections are arranged year by year. Typically researchers investigate a select time in Burke’s life or Burke’s interchanges with particular correspondents.

In 2008, the Pennsylvania State University Libraries initiated purchase of the third Burke collection, Burke-3, from the Kenneth Burke Literary Estate. This collection measures 18 linear feet and dates from about 1915 to 1969. Unlike Burke-1 and Burke-2, Burke-3 is not primarily a correspondence collection. Although containing letters, Burke-3 consists mainly of notes, early fiction, newspaper clippings, responses to student writings, and many drafts, including ones related to major works such as Permanence and Change, Grammar of Motives, and Rhetoric of Motives.

In 2008, the Pennsylvania State University Libraries also purchased a collection related to The Kenneth Burke Papers, The Kenneth Burke Letters to Lily Batterham Burke. It measures .46 cubic feet and spans 1918 to 1933, with the bulk of the letters dating from 1919, and 1922 to 1929. Purchased from Burke’s daughters France Burke and Jeanne Elspeth Burke Hart, this collection consists mainly of letters Kenneth Burke wrote to his first wife, Lily Batterham Burke.

Inquiries, Visits, and Permissions

We welcome inquiries about the Kenneth Burke Papers, as well as visits from researchers. It's always wise to write or call ahead before visiting, but we particularly want to alert researchers to our preservation microfilming and scanning projects for Burke-3. Certain portions of the collection will be off-site and inaccessible for users for long periods of time. Please contact us ( before making plans to visit.

Questions about use, cameras, photocopying, and permission to quote should be directed to Sandra Stelts (, Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts. The publication of any materials from the Kenneth Burke Papers requires permission from The Pennsylvania State University Libraries. Requests for permission to publish letters of Kenneth Burke will also be directed to the Kenneth Burke Literary Trust, which retains copyright for Kenneth Burke. Researchers seeking permission to publish letters of Burke's correspondents will need additional permissions from the respective copyright holders. While we will try to assist scholars in their search, it is the responsibility of individual researchers to make a good-faith effort to locate and contact literary executors.

The University of Texas at Austin maintains a database, WATCH File (Writers, Artists, and Their Copyright Holders), that provides information about literary copyright.

Photograph: Kenneth Burke in 1991. A detail from a photograph by Richard Ackley.

Banner graphic from top to bottom layer: Unsent postcard from Burke to Sidney Hook, 1938; letter from Burke to John Crowe Ransom, 3 Nov. 1939; unsent letter from Burke to Matthew Josephson, 5 Aug. 1938.

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