A pair of extensive, unique collections arrived at Washington University Libraries in recent weeks, their wide-ranging contents anticipated to be of much interest to scholars and others wishing to explore the remarkable literary career of either David Wagoner (b. 1926) or Alexander Trocchi (1925-1984).
Both collections contain many decades' worth of drafts, letters, photographs, notebooks, clippings, and more from these celebrated authors. The materials are currently undergoing preliminary organization in preparation for full processing over the next few months, according to Joel Minor, curator of the Modern Literature Collection and Manuscripts. Minor notes that each of the acquisitions is a significant and appropriate one for the growing Modern Literature Collection. First established at WU Libraries in 1964, it is already a repository for both Wagoner’s and Trocchi's early literary papers.
"David Wagoner has been an important figure in American literature since the early 1950s, as a poet, fiction writer, editor, and educator. He donated two smaller batches of literary papers to Washington University in the late 1960s, upon our request to help us build the Modern Literature Collection. Now with this purchase, the Wagoner archive is essentially complete," Minor says.
"Alexander Trocchi, a very different sort of writer, is now considered one of the major Scottish authors of the 20th century and an international voice for the underground and avant-garde. We purchased a fairly significant collection of Trocchi’s literary papers from a rare-book dealer, also in the 1960s. Similarly to Wagoner, this acquisition means we now hold the complete Trocchi archive available to researchers."
"Interest in the life and career of both writers is growing," says Minor. "In the past year I have worked with scholars who came here to access the current Wagoner and Trocchi collections, and I know in both cases they are excited by the prospect of more coming in."
Minor traveled to Wagoner’s home in the state of Washington this past summer to conduct an inventory of the poet’s papers, which amount to about 80 linear feet and cover a span of more than 80 years. The newly acquired collection includes, for example, a boyhood diary from 1938, typescripts of numerous unpublished novels and poems, several versions of the screenplay for his adapted novel The Escape Artist, co-produced by Francis Ford Coppola in 1982, and correspondence with other significant poets such as Wagoner’s friend and mentor, Theodore Roethke, at whose encouragement Wagoner joined the faculty at the University of Washington in 1954.
Wagoner is highly regarded as the leading poet of the Pacific Northwest. He also has a strong reputation as a teacher of writing and served as editor of the distinguished literary journal Poetry Northwest for nearly 50 years. Among his published works are 24 collections of poems—two of which were finalists for the National Book Award—as well as ten novels. He was selected to serve as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 1978 and has been the recipient of numerous prestigious awards.
Born and raised in the industrial Midwest, Wagoner's move to the lush Pacific Northwest in 1954 proved to be the pivotal turning point in his life. He soon became best known as a poet and novelist whose work was attentive to place, environment, and the natural world, and dealt with the corrupting influences of modern society. Now 86, Wagoner continues to write and publish poetry in periodicals, anthologies, and books—his latest being After the Point of No Return, in 2012.
When asked to comment on his archive as a whole, Wagoner modestly said, "I'm especially pleased that Washington University’s preservation of these papers might help those interested understand [them] better than I did."
Like Wagoner, Trocchi’s work is hardly contained within one main genre or activity. Trocchi wrote poetry, essays, and stories in addition to ten novels. He was also a highly respected publisher and translator. In the early 1950s he left his native Scotland and eventually settled in Paris, where he established Merlin, a literary magazine, and Collection Merlin, a small publishing house. In a few short years he published Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, Eugene Ionesco, Robert Creeley, and others. He also collaborated with Maurice Girodias of Olympia Press by writing literary-porn novels wherein he first started experimenting with the conventional notions of authorship and narration.
In Paris, Trocchi acquired what would prove to be a lifelong heroin addiction. His most famous novel, Cain’s Book, is the fictional journal of a heroin addict living and working on a scow on the Hudson River. It became known as an "anti-novel" and Trocchi soon garnered the attention of Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, who became lasting friends, as well as the attention of the British courts, who banned the book after an obscenity trial. He lived in the U.S. from the mid-50s to the early-60s, before settling in London where he started Project Sigma, an attempt to organize a broad collaboration of international underground movements into a cultural revolution.
Since his death in 1984, at the age of 59, there has been a renewal of interest in Trocchi and his heavy influence on the avant-garde movements of the 20th century. In 2003, a motion-picture adaptation of Young Adam, his breakthrough book for Olympia Press, was released in theaters.
The newly acquired papers, purchased from Trocchi's last partner, Sally Child, contain considerable holdings related to his involvement with various artistic, social, and literary movements, which include research files, correspondence, interviews, and journals. Also included are drafts of his writings, both published and unpublished—most notably, his long-promised but never-published last novel, "The Long Book."
"I shall not presume what Alex would have thought about it—but he was also a dealer of archives, books, and manuscripts, and he would surely approve of a good place for a good archive—including his own," Child said. "I am of course delighted and relieved that the papers, which have been through fire and flood, now join the rest of the Trocchi collection at Washington University in St Louis."
For more information about these acquisitions or other holdings of the Special Collections department of Washington University Libraries, visit http://library.wustl.edu/units/spec or call 314-935-5495.
The photos, from top to bottom, are as follows: 1) Among the varied items to be found in the David Wagoner archive is a diary from his childhood. 2) Curator of Manuscripts Joel Minor traveled to the home of David Wagoner, right, in the summer of 2012 to conduct an inventory of the poet’s papers prior to their acquisition by Special Collections this winter (Photo by Angela Minor). 3) Alexander Trocchi is pictured second from right in this 1965 photograph, one of the items in the collection (Photo by Wim Van Der Linden). 4) Sarah Schnuriger, Special Collections assistant, sorts through clippings in the Alexander Trocchi archive that arrived from England in late January. Schnuriger and manuscripts curator Joel Minor are currently processing the new acquisition, which spans roughly ten linear feet.