Kenneth Burke was friend and confidante, inspiration and motivator, of a star assemblage of twentieth-century American figures. The intimate nature of his correspondence and the level of interchange that Burke customarily elicits from his correspondents reveal his powers of friendship and intellect. The first Burke collection, Burke-1, is primarily a correspondence file of letters written to Burke through 1961.
The largest collection of letters is the exchange between Burke and Malcolm Cowley, who were mutually gifted with strong constitutions and tireless typewriters; their correspondence, begun in 1916 when they were high-school chums in Pittsburgh, continued for seventy-eight years and ended only with Cowley's death in 1989.
After the unique Cowley-Burke file, the second outstanding collection is the correspondence with William Carlos Williams, who for forty-two years wrote to Burke as editor, poet, friend, and physician. Williams wrote several times a week, often sending along poems for Burke's reactions and comments.
Also included in the Kenneth Burke Papers are letters from Robert Penn Warren, Allen Tate, Ralph Ellison, Hugh Dalziel Duncan, Katherine Anne Porter, Theodore Roethke, Jean Toomer, Hart Crane, Howard Nemerov, and Marianne Moore.
The files consist of both family and professional correspondence. A letter written by "Master Kenneth Burke" to "Dear Mom and Lewis" on August 8, 1906, is the earliest of nearly 1,100 notes and letters (original and carbons) by Burke himself. Also of interest are the tiny, spider-like summaries in margins or on the versos of letters, where he often worked out his replies.
The collection is arranged chronologically. An item-level guide to Burke-1 is available electronically.
Photograph: The earliest letter in the Kenneth Burke Papers, written August 8, 1906, by Kenneth Burke when he was nine years old.