Summer 2006

Archival Gold

archive boxes
A notebook and poster are pulled from one
of some 70 file boxes containing working
notes and other collected material of
critically acclaimed poet Albert Goldbarth.
The archive is at home at Wichita State
University Libraries Department of Special

Albert Goldbarth, distinguished professor of humanities at Wichita State and sole two-time recipient of the prestigious National Book Critics Circle award for poetry, is among America’s most respected living poets.

Recently a substantial archive of his papers, spanning his entire working life, was purchased by the WSU Libraries Department of Special Collections.

“It’s a general archive that would include all of my literary-specific papers,” Goldbarth explains, “and probably the core of that would be handwritten and typed notes for poems, first drafts going all the way back to juvenilia and up to a very substantial new selection of poems I’ll be publishing next year.”

Occupying roughly 70 cardboard file boxes, the archive also contains, according to Goldbarth, “editorial correspondence, contracts, letters to and from other writers, all sorts of acceptance and rejection materials, and a whole bunch of third-level ancillary material that would go back to a sixth-grade three-ring binder notebook.”

The staff at Special Collections is overjoyed to have such a valuable resource on hand for future generations of scholars.

“Our mission here is to maintain and archive materials of importance to the university,” says Cathy Downs, associate dean of libraries. “This is a stellar archive of the work of a faculty member who has contributed to the history of WSU, a member who has earned a national — and international — reputation.”

Goldbarth is happy to have found a caring home for his life’s work.

“I guess it’s my hope,” he says, “and the library’s hope that the collection ultimately would be interesting to any theoretical scholars in the future interested in my own work, and scholars interested in looking at the everyday working life of a poet who came to fruition in the mid- to late-1970s.”

One of the outstanding features of this collection of work is that Goldbarth kept rough drafts and rewrites of his poems as they developed, illustrating the fashion in which his best work was created.

“He kept versions of poems as he worked on them,” Downs says. “You can see the genesis, the evolution of his writing and editing. Watching the creative process in action is what I find most interesting. I think any creative writing student would be interested in seeing this archive.”

Goldbarth agrees that much of his “process” is documented in the archive, saying, “It’s pretty comprehensive, going all the way back to things that really have to do with the step-by-step creation of my work — whether it led to dead ends or glorious published materials.”

The basic task of organization was a daunting one. “This material was in ten thousand places around my house,” says Goldbarth. “I’m not an organized person, really. I was weeding out the old notes on poems written on bar napkins and backs of receipts and trying to extricate them from old Chicago bus transfers and Burger King wrappers.

“It was more like archaeology than anything.”


Archival Gold

Albert Goldbarth, distinguished professor of humanities at Wichita State, is among America’s most respected living poets.

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