The header image is a closeup of a poem found on James Merrill's school composition notebook. The closeup is on a poem that reads "Adventures in Writing, illustrated by the author. Volume I. Dedicated to my best (underlined) friend, my Mother (underlined). By Jimmy Merrill."
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John M. Olin Library, Level 1, Julian Edison Department of Special Collections

When They Were Young: Juvenilia in the Modern Literature Collection

Title page of James Merrill’s school composition book. From the James Merrill Papers.

The term “juvenilia” describes the works of writers and artists that were produced during their youth. These works are often unpublished and only become public after the writer has already achieved renown.

Although writers’ works of childhood and youth were once viewed as inferior or unimportant, scholars are increasingly looking to juvenilia as a subject worthy of study. Examining the items helps give a sense of the development of a writer’s style and language, traces of which often appear in their mature works.

This exhibition examined collections within the Julian Edison Department of Special Collections and looked at notable authors’ earliest writings. “When They Were Young: Juvenilia in the Modern Literature Collection” featured items from several of the University Libraries’ collections of modern writers’ papers, including stories, poems, and drawings created when the writers were between the ages of six and twenty-one.