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Modern Literature Collection

Text from a book.

Modern Literature Collection

Inaugurated in 1964, the Modern Literature Collection was created as an archive of the work of contemporary English and American writers who were considered critically underappreciated and whose reputations might grow further in the years to come. A committee of five writers associated with Washington University met to compile a list of potential acquisitions. Headed by the award-winning poet Mona Van Duyn, this panel was charged with both recommending and contacting a select group of authors.

Special Collections then set about acquiring manuscript materials, such as personal and editorial correspondence, publishers’ proofs, drafts, and ephemera, that reflected the writers’ compositional processes and provided biographical information. This strategy created a set of unique literary archives that now forms the core of the Modern Literature Collection.

The Department complemented this important body of papers with definitive collections of the published work of these authors—appearances in periodicals, first editions, later editions, copies corrected or inscribed by the author, and books containing contributions, translations, biographies, and critical studies—to create a research archive of print material to accompany the manuscripts. In a few cases, Special Collections even collected this printed matter for authors whose papers they were not able to acquire. The result is a multi-layered and broad-reaching collection that provides scholars with meaningful perspectives on the authors’ lives and work.

The work of forty-six writers, all but two of whom were then currently living, was reflected in the initial Modern Literature Collection. Today, the Collection’s list has grown to more than 175 authors, presses, and journals, with more than 125 of these represented by manuscript materials. The prescience and commitment of the original panel reaped great rewards, producing a set of printed and manuscript collections that are internationally recognized and accessed by scholars from around the globe.

Search the Modern Literature Collection on ArchivesSpace

Modern Literature Authors and Entities (PDF)

Introductions to selected Modern Literature Collection authors and their collections

The letters, notebooks, drafts, and other archival material of writers can provide invaluable insight into the creative process behind literary masterpieces. To help students and other researchers discover these materials, we have compiled introductions to many of the poets, playwrights, fiction writers, and nonfiction writers (or in some cases, a combination thereof) for whom we hold major archival collections, and/or significant holdings. For more information, contact the Curator of the Modern Literature Collection/Manuscripts Joel Minor.

Visit the Modern Literature Collection YouTube channel to watch archival and event videos.

Collecting Areas

Digital Collections

Digital Collections highlight those portions of the Julian Edison Department of Special Collections that have been made or born-digital.

Dowd Illustration Research Archive

The Dowd Illustration Research Archive (formerly Dowd Modern Graphic History Library) at Washington University is comprised of original art and printed material from many fields of popular American pictorial graphic culture.

East Asian Library Special Collections

The East Asian Library houses about 800 volumes of rare and special books, manuscripts, and other types of materials in its special collection.

Film & Media Archive

The Archive is committed to the preservation of documentary film and other media which chronicles America's great political and social movements with a particular emphasis on the African-American experience.

Kranzberg Art & Architecture Library Special Collections

The Art & Architecture Special Collections is a 4,200-volume collection of rare and unique art and design printed materials located at the Kranzberg Art & Architecture Library. The main focus is illustrated books, prints, and photographs from the 18th and 19th centuries and contemporary book design.

Local History

The local history collecting area focuses on the history of St. Louis and the surrounding region.

Manuscript Collections

Washington University Libraries' Julian Edison Department of Special Collections Manuscript collections contain a broad range of materials dating from the 2nd century BC through the present.

Modern Literature Collection

The Modern Literature Collection includes more than 175 authors, presses, and journals, with more than 125 of these represented by manuscript materials.

Music Special Collections

Special Collections at the Gaylord Music Library include sheet music, manuscripts, rare books, and digital materials.

Rare Book Collections

The Rare Book Collections include books from all Special Collection areas. The collections’ primary strengths are in the areas of literature; the material culture of the book, including the history of printing, graphic design, and the book arts; and aspects of American and world history.

University Archives

Washington University Archives chronicles the history of Washington University in St. Louis from 1853 to today, with over 300 unique collections including campus publications, reports, photographic prints and negatives, books, film, sound recordings, oral histories, architectural plans, and artifacts.