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Kenneth Burke typed letter

Although original Burke letters are held privately or dispersed throughout university repositories in the United States, many copies of Burke’s letters reside in the second Burke collection, Burke-2. Interfiled with correspondents’ original letters, they allow researchers to reconstruct many of Burke’s interchanges with his correspondents between the years 1960 and 1987.

Attesting to Burke’s long and varied friendships, several files span the two Burke collections. The letters from Malcolm Cowley form a significant continuing file (1916-1987). Notable for its level of personal and artistic exchange, the Burke and Cowley correspondence frequently includes news, advice, and poetry.

Another remarkable continuing file (1946-1988) contains the eloquent and witty letters of poet, novelist, and short-story writer Howard Nemerov. Once Burke's colleague at Bennington, Nemerov was instrumental in bringing Burke to Washington University, St. Louis, from1970-1971. The disclosure and humor present in Burke's and Nemerov’s correspondence reflect a long and enduring friendship.

Yet a third outstanding continuing file includes Burke’s descriptive letters to James Sibley Watson, founder with Scofield Thayer of the well-known little magazine, The Dial, and Burke’s friend and benefactor. Their correspondence continues from the 1920s until Watson’s death in 1982 and even beyond, with a letter written by Burke to “Dear dr” after Watson died.

Additional notable files include Burke’s interchanges with Denis Donoghue, the Irish literary critic; Stanley Edgar Hyman, the American literary critic; the Burke scholar William Rueckert; and Robert Zachary, Burke’s editor at the University of California Press.

Burke’s diverse interests, including not only language and literature, but also politics, sociology, music, and art, are reflected in the range of correspondents represented in the collection. Some of these correspondents include Djuna Barnes, Peter Blume, Wayne Booth, Kay Boyle, Bill Bradley, Norman O. Brown, Don Burks, Louis Calabro, Robert Coates, Timothy Crusius, Ralph Ellison, Daniel Fogarty, Armin Frank, Granville Hicks, Matthew Josephson, Robert Lowell, David Mandel, Eugene McCarthy, Richard McKeon, Talcott Parsons, John Crowe Ransom, Charles Roig, Henry Sams, Harry Slochower, Susan Sontag, Carl Sprinchorn, Christian Susini, Allen Tate, William Wasserstrom, Rene Wellek, Paul West, and Winslow Wilson.

As in the first Burke collection, Burke-2 is arranged chronologically, and then alphabetically by correspondents’ last names. Currently, we are creating an item-level description of Burke-2. Ongoing item lists are available in PDF for the following series: Correspondence--General, Correspondence--Family, Photographs, and Works. Please check here for updates. Resources include notes explaining notations and family names.

Photograph: A letter written by Burke, addressed to James Sibley Watson, fall 1982, after Watson's death, March 31, 1982.


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