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Washington University Libraries Awarded Grant from National Historical Publications and Records Commission

The National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) has awarded a grant of $34,433 to Washington University Libraries to fund the project “Liberating the Spoken Word: Poetry Readings and Literary Performances in St. Louis, 1969-2005.”

The grant will allow the Libraries to digitize and create metadata for 947 audio recordings from three archival collections: the River Styx Archive, the Jan Garden Castro Papers, and the Michael Castro Papers. The collections include spoken-word performances, interviews, and radio shows featuring a host of artists and writers, including Allen Ginsberg, Amiri Baraka, Howard Nemerov, Derek Walcott, and Adrienne Rich. The recordings were captured in and around St. Louis from 1969 to 2005.

The grant will also fund the digitization and creation of metadata for correspondence, flyers, press releases, and clippings from the three archives, which are housed in WU Libraries’ Department of Special Collections. The digitized spoken-word performances and their accompanying paper records will be made available online via Washington University’s Digital Gateway.

During the late 1960s and early ’70s, Michael Castro, St. Louis’s first poet laureate, and Jan Garden Castro, a noted author and arts activist, were instrumental in starting the River Styx Poets radio show and the literary journal River Styx. They also helped establish St. Louis’s renowned River Styx poetry series, a program of regular public readings by prominent regional and national writers. More than 700 poets were recorded through the radio show and reading series. The often electrifying readings were instrumental in bringing River Styx local and national recognition. They also fueled a thriving poetry scene that continues to this day. In 2015, River Styx magazine celebrated its 40th year.

“The ‘Liberating the Spoken Word’ project will provide complete public access for the first time to these recorded performances,” says Joel Minor, curator of the Modern Literature Collection and manuscripts in WashU Libraries’ Department of Special Collections. “The recordings will deliver the authentic, immediate experience of hearing some of the most important literary voices of our times perform their own work.”

The NHPRC awards funding each year to select archival projects. WU Libraries were one of seven institutions selected for a grant from a pool of 48 applicants. The two-year grant starts on March 1, 2017. For more information about the grant, contact Joel Minor at (314) 935-5413 or