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Joan and Stanley Elkin
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Stanley Elkin’s “Wall of Respect”

In the summer of 2022, Special Collections acquired a substantial amount of books, papers, artwork, and more that belonged to Stanley and Joan Elkin, which we are adding to the Stanley Elkin Papers. One of America’s most celebrated fiction and essay writers of the late twentieth century, Stanley Elkin was also a longtime professor of English at WashU, and his wife Joan an accomplished visual artist.

Joan and Stanley Elkin
Joan and Stanley Elkin, circa 1990s—from the Stanley Elkin Papers

One major component of the acquisition was Stanley’s “Wall of Respect”—a bookcase packed with every edition (American and British) of books he had written, and their translations; plus periodicals and anthologies with his work, books, and other works by others about Elkin, recordings of him reading or being interviewed, and more. He describes it in a 1992 essay for Harper’s Magazine, called “Out of One’s Tree,” which you can access in the Harper’s archive online via WashU Libraries. 

A tall bookcase
Stanley Elkinʼs Wall of Respect bookcase and basket of soaps in the Special Collections Reading Room in John M. Olin Library

After Stanley died in May 1995, Joan kept adding to the bookcase, as more editions and mentions appeared over the years. When Joan died in June 2022, and the Elkin house needed to be sold, their daughter Molly generously donated the “Wall of Respect”—the bookcase along with the 178 items stored on it—in hopes we could preserve it in some fashion.

Right next to the bookcase, we placed the basket of soaps that belonged to Elkin and that Molly also donated. Elkin wrote about his accumulation of travel soaps in another essay, and we had them on display in 2023 in the Olin Library Collect O’ Rama Case.

a seated man with a painting in the background
Stanley Elkin with a painting by Joan Elkin in the background, circa 1970s—from the Stanley Elkin Papers

With a number of my colleagues’ invaluable help, we were able to preserve the contents as a collection by adding a local term, “Stanley Elkin’s Wall of Respect” when we cataloged them, and by displaying the items on their original case in call number order in the Special Collections Reading Room in John M. Olin Library. So if you ever come across anything in the catalog in the “Special Collections Wall of Respect” location, you’ll know where to find it!

First page of “A Prayer for Losers” —one of the 381 catalog entries in the “Stanley Elkin’s Wall of Respect Collection”

Just for fun, we created a time-lapse video of us populating the bookcase with the contents, and it includes shots of the “Wall of Respect” as it looks with everything on it.

The contents of the Wall of Respect are for use in the Special Collections Reading Room only and are available to patrons with staff assistance from Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm.

We are currently incorporating the rest of the newly acquired materials by re-processing the Stanley Elkin Papers, and there will be an exhibition of highlights along with Joan’s artwork in early 2025 in the Thomas Gallery at Olin Library.

Staff photo of Joel Minor.

About the Author

Joel Minor
Job Title
Curator of Modern Literature Collection/Manuscripts