New Acquisition: Howard Nemerov Letters

An early photo of Howard Nemerov that he gifted to Hope Greer, with signature and musical staff notation.

Washington University in St Louis has recently acquired a new set of letters written by Howard Nemerov, along with two early photos.

Nemerov was a widely acclaimed author who published poetry, short stories, novels, essays, and criticism. He is best known for his poetry, which won him numerous awards including the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1977 for Collected Poems, and the Bollingen Prize for Poetry in 1981. Beginning in 1969, he held the Edward Mallinckrodt Distinguished Professor of English Chair at Washington University in St. Louis, where he taught until his death in 1991.

The newly acquired letters were donated by Sara Eisenman, the daughter of Hope Robson Greer, to whom the letters are addressed. These letters, most of which are love letters from 1937-1938, mainly document Nemerov’s first year of college.at Harvard University, including discussions of what he was reading and some of what he was working on. Ms. Eisenman claims that her mother met Howard in New York City at a Fieldston-Horace Mann dance, where she taught him how to dance. From these letters, we can tell that Nemerov was very much in love with Hope, and although their relationship eventually cooled (see “farewell letter” below), they seem to resume a friendship in the early 1940s when he is serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force. According to Ms. Eisenman, Greer became very close to Howard’s sister Diane during the war. Two of the letters are from this period, one of which contains an original poem.

Dramatic farewell letter from Nemerov to Greer, May 12, 1938

This new acquisition will be added to the Manuscripts unit’s Howard Nemerov Papers, which includes an already extensive collection of Nemerov correspondence, such as business correspondence relating to the publication of his books and over 800 letters between Nemerov and fellow authors Kenneth Burke, Maxine Kumin, Kay Boyle, and Reed Whittemore, among other literary figures. The Howard Nemerov Papers also includes an extensive collection of Nemerov’s worksheets, drafts, notes towards poems, essays, lectures, stories, and novels, as well as a large group of his photographs, teaching materials, and journals.

For more information on the new acquisition, please contact Joel Minor, curator of the Modern Literature Collection/Manuscripts.

Wartime letter from Nemerov to Greer with a poem, April 2, 1942

About the author

Rose is a PhD candidate in English and American Literature at Washington University in St Louis. Her focus is on 20th and 21st century American literature and disability studies.