I’ll be honest. I’ve written about Sherwood Anderson on the blog before. Three times, to be more precise. And this makes four, but for a good reason. Among his many works, Sherwood Anderson was the author ofWinesburg, Ohio, a collection of short stories first published in May 1919. Why am I being specific about the month? Because this May will be the book’s 100th anniversary and Special Collections and VT Publishing in the University Libraries are doing something to celebrate!
On May 2, 2019, we will be hosting a reception and a guest lecture by Dr. W. D. Taylor about Sherwood Anderson. In addition to commemorating Anderson, the event will celebrate VT Publishing’s digital and analog publication of Dr. Taylor’s essay, “Requiem for a Wanderer: Sherwood Anderson’s Last Days.” During the event, select items from Special Collections relating to Anderson will also be on display.
But, of course that’s not enough Sherwood Anderson for the month! During May, Special Collections display cases in the reading room will feature an exhibit called “The Life, Letters, and Literature of Sherwood Anderson,” with a focus on Winesburg, Ohio, and contextualizing the work in Anderson’s life and time. Special Collections has editions of the book in more than eight languages! In addition, we will take the opportunity to launch a permanent digital exhibit called “Sherwood Anderson: His Life, His Letters, His Literature, and His Circle.” This digital exhibit will contain content from collections in Special Collections related to Anderson directly, as well as to his family, friends, and collaborators. It will feature highlights from collections already digitized, including the James T. Farrell Letters to Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson, 1952, 1954 (Ms2017-005) and the Sherwood Anderson Correspondence with Llewellyn Jones, 1916-1924, n.d. (Ms2015-044), as well as newly digitized collections, photographs, book covers, dust jackets, and illustrations.
The calendar item for this event is online at https://calendar.lib.vt.edu/event/5228637 and more information about the forthcoming exhibits is available online at https://calendar.lib.vt.edu/event/5228708. “The Beautiful Truths of Sherwood Anderson” is an event open to all and we encourage you to join us for some refreshment and conversation! It begins at 5pm on Thursday, May 2, 2019, in the Multipurpose Room on the first floor of Newman Library. If you have questions, contact us (firstname.lastname@example.org or 540-231-6308)!
I feel like, at some point, I should stop posting about Sherwood Anderson and his extended circle (this makes #3 for me and #4 total in the 18 months or so). On the other hand, over the last two years, we’ve been able to acquire some great new materials. This week, I’ve got a short set of letters from James T. Farrell to Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson.
This collection contains four letters written by author James Farrell to Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson between February 1952 and May of 1954. The two had some on-going correspondence of which this represents only a small piece. As the letters suggest, one thing the two had in common was social activism–at various points in time, both worked for and supported various rights and activist causes. The April 8th letter is primarily concerned with Farrell’s updates about contacts in the UAW and his efforts to help Anderson get a job with them, if she was interested. (It appears she was not, as she was re-hired by her previous employer, the YWCA, in 1951, and she remained with the organization until 1961.) The third and fourth letters are about some of Farrell’s recent writings on Sherwood Anderson, Anderson’s influence on Farrell, and Farrell’s own writing efforts at the time.
The finding aid for the collection has biographical notes on Farrell and Anderson and you can view it here:http://ead.lib.virginia.edu/vivaxtf/view?docId=vt/viblbv01848.xml. (The nice thing about revisiting it is discovering one’s typos and fixing them!) I hope to have the letters posted on our digital site soon, at which point I’ll include links to those in the finding aid, too. While the collection is a small one, for Special Collections, it’s yet another piece of the Sherwood Anderson history we have here. It tells a little part of his posthumous story, showing how much of an influence and subject he proved to be consistently in the 10+ years following his death. Equally important, it gives us more insight into Eleanor’s continued connections with the literary circle and her own passion for social activism.
Last time I wrote a post, it was on Sherwood Anderson and our newly-acquired copy of The Cornfields, one of Anderson’s poems which was separately printed. In that post, I mentioned a collection relating to Mary Sinton Leitch, which I had recently processed and was indirectlyconnected to Anderson.This time around, I thought I would talk about Mrs. Leitch and her letters to J. J. Lankes.
Mary Sinton Lewis was born in New York City, New York, in 1876 to Carlton Thomas and Nancy Dunlap McKeen Lewis. After attending Smith College and Columbia University, as well as schools in Europe, she worked in New York City, first as a women’s prison inspector, and later as a contributing editor to several magazines and newspapers. In 1907, after taking some time to travel, she married John David Leitch and the couple settled in eastern Virginia. She helped to found the Poetry Society of Virginia, serving as both its president (1933) and co-president (1944-1945). She contined to service in editorial capacities, editing the Lyric Virginia Today (vol. 1), though writing became her larger focus. Between 1922 and 1952, she authored seven collections of poetry and short fiction: The Wagon and the Star (1922), The Unrisen Morrow (1926), The Black Moon (1929), Spider Architect (1937), From Invisible Mountains (1943), Himself and I (1950), and Nightingales on the Moon (1952). Leitch died in August 1954 and is buried in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
In 1932, she was introduced to J. J. Lankes, a draftsman turned draftsman/artist and illustrator for much of his life. Lankes would collaborate for many years with Sherwood Anderson. Lankes, it seems, was brought to visit Leitch in the company of writer Louis Jaffe. Our collection consists of letters written by Leitch to Jankes between 1932 and 1950, during which theymaintained a more than 18-year correspondence that contained conversations of personal news & friends, the Virginia literary and art scene, and their own writing and artistic efforts (including Lankes collaborations with poet Robert Frost). Leitch seemed to a center for social activity for writers and artists, hosting Lankes, Frost, Louis Jaffe, and others, and many of her letters include plans for events relating to the Poetry Society of Virginia. The majority of the letters were written at “Wycherley,” Jack (who she often refers to in her letters as “Himself”) and Mary Leitch’s home in Lynnhaven, Virginia.
There’s a nicecollection of Mary Sinton Leitch’s papers at VCU, including some of her original works and more of her correspondence with other friends, poets, and artists, which you can read aboutonline here. The finding aid for our collection is available online. I only digitized a couple of letters for this post, but we do have transcripts of the letters currently under review and I hope to have the whole collection scanned in the near future.
A few of the letters in this collection are currently on display in our reading room for Women’s History Month, but I scanned three others to share today. The first is among the early letters between the two, written on Easter Sunday, 1940. Leitch was involved not only in the Poetry Society of Virginia, but also an art league. This letter details Leitch’s efforts to have Lankes’ work displayed somewhere in the Virginia Beach/Norfolk area. (Mrs. Leitch’s handwriting seems a bit daunting at first, but if you give it a few minutes, it starts to become mostly readable–that being said, I’ve posted a transcript below, too.)
Dear Mr. Lankes:
Stera Bosa (Mrs. Frank Walton, 636 Redgate Ave, Norfolk) Pres of our art league is ? us & we have talked ? with variousmembers of her board the matter of your woodcuts. They are very eager to exhibit them in the fall. At present & on into May, the space in the museum is filled. Anyway, even were it available then, Mrs Walter says, would be a most unsuitable home to show the pictures. Very few persons visit the exhibits after this date & to put your pictures on display so late would not be to your advantage.
To show in our library is, is seems, not possible. There are no exhibits held there: theres no space, as far as we know. But in the museum you will find your work will be seen not only by the art group but by the general public. All the intellegensia of Norfolk flock there.
Well just let Mrs Walton know whats what about the autumn; also whether you could let her have enough of your woodcutsor paintings also–to make up say forty pictures.
This would complete the number needed for a one-man show. With fewer pictures, how about exhibiting someone elses work with yours, though I think the other way (all Lankes) would be very preferable.
I must run. This is a servantless day & I hear Himself setting the table.
It was delightful having you with us together with Mr. Frost. Come again!
I am really very keen to see the Country Churchyard woodcuts. I shall have the Frost farm house framed this week.
In February 1945, she typed a letter to Lankes talking about activities of the poetry society, a desire to host Lankes again, correspondence with a mutual friend (another writer), and a discussion on the nature of writing and art. The envelope in which was sent also includes a sketch, probably made by Lankes after he received it.
The final letter I picked is fromMarch 1947. It’s a bit more of the same: news about common friends and poetry society activities, but it had a few lines and ideas that struck me. Leitch, clearly in reply to a letter we don’t have, talks about the challenges of receiving praise for one’s work. Then, despite that she was on her second round of leadership in the Poetry Society of Virginia, she writes that “Poets are such d— d— critters to deal with”–yet she seems to have suffered her efforts for good reason. Lastly, the very end of the letter has a small post script: “Your letter has been destructively destroyed.” I love reading and deciphering correspondence–it’s one of the things that drew me to this profession–and notes like this can haunt someone like me. Because we only have a piece of the record in this collection, which doesn’t include Lankes letters to Leitch, all I can do is wonder about what his last letter said that she would destroy it (likely at his request?)!
Mar 5 1947
Bob Coffin writes that he will visit Wycherly & read at Williamsburg the 2nd Sat in May. So he lived up to attend that meeting!
Tut tut! I cant believe Mrs Mahler is sneaky unless she were caught in flagrante delicto! She seems so open & aboveboard I just cant believe she snoops among private documents. I wonder why you suspect her of such a naughty habit.
Yes, one can be damned with much praise as easilymore so perhapsthan when the praise is faint. However much you may deserve such ? I know exactly how you feel. I often wish one friend would cease telling people that I am a rival of Shakespeare & Milton. He only makes a fool of me & sets people against me.
Theres no doubt that his admiration of your work is deeply sincere. That is something anyway!
I wired something on Friday asking when he arrives & when he leaves. I cant make any plans till I know & friends are clamouring to entertain him. The answer came on Mon & was from Mrs Carl lecturing in the west & left no forwarding address His agent made all the arrangements & clinched the ? So I suppose the lion will turn up. But Im powerful jittery. There will be a big crowd to hear him & if he doesnt turn up?? We got to get out of this co-presidency. It will be the death of me. Poets are such D— D— critters to deal with. But not Sir Frestrain. Hes all right. The reason I asked him again is that the Soc. has grownhas doubled in since since he read here. Also Im wishing he will be heard by heaps of folk who couldnt come to Norfolk, from Richmond, Hampton, Newports News et al.
Your letter has been destructively destroyed
Until we acquired these letters, I had never heard of Mary Sinton Leitch. But, one thing I’ve discovered as I’ve been processing these Anderson and Anderson-adjacent collections in the last few months, is that I’m learning quite a bit about the literary and artistic circle of Southwest (and now eastern) Virginia. Mrs. Leitch brought the work of well-known writers and artists of the time to her community, recognize the important role poems, woodcuts, short stories, novels, orpaintings can have on anyone in any place or time. And, even more so, she contributed to the literary conversation taking place, publishing extensively herself. So, on the last day of Women’s History Month, I thought she needed some time in the spotlight. She might just inspire us all to be creative in our own ways.
Sherwood Anderson’s “The Cornfields” first appeared in print his first collection of poems,Mid-American Chants, in 1918. It’s the first poem in the book, too. So, a lot of “firsts” here. It would be dangerous for me (a two-time English major and avid poetry consumer) and a long read for you, if I were to launch into an interpretation of “The Cornfields.” Besides, one of the great joys of poetry is finding your own message alongside an author’s, tucked away inside their words. Editions ofMid-American Chantswere issued and reissued over many years (we have three in Special Collections), but one of the things that makes “The Cornfields” stand out is that in 1939, it was published on its own:
In this form, it is a four-page booklet, produced by the House of Russell publishers in New York. It consists of the pages above, plus a short author biography at the end. Our recently-acquired copy also includes another small folded sheet of papercalled “Trends of the Times: Poets Now Publishing in Brochure Form.” It’s basically an argument by the publisher for authors to publish individual poems, rather than entire volumes–ultimately because it’s a cheaper and more profitable format. It suggests that Anderson’s poem could have easily been a test case or advertisement for other authors. Anderson was a prolific and well-known author at the end of the 1930s, after all, and if he did it, perhaps others would follow suit. Our copy of the 1939, single version of the poem will be one of only 4 known copies in academic libraries, so we are quite pleased to add it to our holdings.
Of course, there’s a danger, too, in publishing a poem that was originally part of a collection on its own. The cover of the 1918 edition ofMid-American Chantsfeatures a simple image: an ear of corn next to the title and author. As a whole, a number of the poems rely on images and concepts relating tocorn and agriculture more broadly, and there are themes of conflict and struggle in throughout, especially the growing industrialization of America and the urban v. rural contrast of the time. “The Cornfields” is only a small piece of Anderson’s voice in the larger volume. We can certainly appreciate it on its own…but also as part of a larger narrative, too. You can readMid-American Chantsonline, if you’re curious to see more of Anderson’s poetry (he would published one more collection in 1927, A New Testament).
Before we part ways with Anderson, just a note about some other resources we have here.We’ve previously had a post on Sherwood Anderson and some of the “newer” manuscript materials (acquired in 2015) we had to share. At the time, the collection was being processed–now we can say it’s done (more on that in a moment)! Because of local ties to Anderson, we were also acquiring some other accessions relating to people in Anderson’s extended personal and professional circle during 2015 and 2016–A sort of of literary and artistic group of people in Southwest Virginia, if you will. I’m glad to say that, at long last, ALL of these collections are processed! I think we’ll need to work on some sort of visualization to clarify the relationships between people, but for now, here’s a list, complete with links to the finding aids and, where it isn’t obvious, an explanation of the connections in brackets:
Sherwood Anderson Collection, 1912-1938 (Ms1973-002). Correspondence among author Sherwood Anderson and family members, most notably letters written by Anderson to his daughter Marian, as well as some of his professional correspondence. Also includes research material about Anderson.
Marvin H. Neel Papers, 1933-1988 (Ms2016-022).This collection includes biographical resources, ephemera, correspondence, and writings and woodcut prints by and related to Marvin H. Neel (1908-1978), created between 1933 and 1988. [Neel corresponded with Lankes and the two wereartistic collaborators.]
Mary Sinton Leitch Correspondence with J. J. Lankes, 1932-1950 (Ms2017-001).The collection includes 27 letters (some with covers and envelopes) written by Mary Sinton Leitch to J. J. Lankes between 1932 and 1950. Introduced by a mutual friend, Leitch and Lankes maintained a more than 18-year correspondence that contained conversations of personal news & friends, the Virginia literary and art scene, and their own writing and artistic efforts (including Lankes collaborations with poet Robert Frost). [Lankes was a friend and artistic collaborator of Anderson.]
Of course, the bulk of Sherwood Anderson’s papers are housed at the Newberry Library in Chicago, where Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson donated them in the 1950s. But if you’re in or near Blacksburg, we encourage you to stop by and make a connection. In addition to the manuscript collections, we have more than 260 books and publications by Andersonin Special Collections, too (plus one, when “The Cornfields” is cataloged)!