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Manuscript Collection

Donald Finkel, 1929-2008. American Author.

Donald Finkel

Finding Aid for the Donald Finkel Papers [MSS045]

Donald Finkel was an American poet best known for his unorthodox styles. Finkel wrote his poetry in free verse, juxtaposing different subjects against each other. Some of his poetry was extremely lengthy, with single pieces filling a volume. He strayed from abstraction and used common language in his writing. Finkel would interlace his poetry with sections taken from a wide range of works, including the writings of authors including Lenny Bruce, Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd, Albert Camus and Franz Kafka.

Born in New York, Finkel attended Columbia University, where he was awarded a bachelor's degree in philosophy in 1952 and a master's degree in English in 1953. Most of his teaching career has been at Washington University where he helped develop the Writers' Program with his wife, Constance Urdang, but he has also taught at the University of Iowa, Bard College, and Bennington College. Finkel was the poet-in-residence emeritus at Washington University until his death.

Some of Finkel's best-known poems include Answer Back (1968) about Mammoth Cave, Adequate Earth (1972) book of poems about Antarctica, and his 1987 work The Wake of the Electron (1987) which was inspired by the story of sailor Donald Crowhurst, who died in 1969 while competing in the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race. Finkel was sent to Antarctica in 1968, as part of a scientific expedition sponsored by the National Science Foundation to send artists to Antarctica. The subject appeared in his 1978 book, Endurance: An Antarctic Idyll.

The 14 books of poetry and other works he published include Simeon (1964), A Joyful Noise (1966), The Garbage Wars (1970), A Mote in Heavenís Eye (1975), Endurance: An Antarctic Idyll (1978), Going Under (1978), What Manner of Beast (1981) and Not So the Chairs: Selected and New Poems (2003). He translated A Splintered Mirror: Chinese Poetry From the Democracy Movement with Carolyn Kizer, which was published in 1991.

Collection Description

The Donald Finkel Papers include his extensive research materials, journals, notes, and heavily revised manuscripts. A large collection of editorial matter toward all of his books and a small, yet revealing professional correspondence with editors and literary colleagues completes the Finkel Papers.