Arts and Literature

The Manuscript Division's collections are not limited to the fields of political and military history. Represented are all areas of American studies, including our country's rich cultural and literary legacy. Some of the nation's most influential writers and artists are represented, none more notable than the preeminent poet Walt Whitman, whose writings exemplify the rich literary flourishing--often called the American Renaissance--that began in the mid-nineteenth century and that also featured the writings of Herman Melville, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain, and Emily Dickinson, all of whom are also reflected in the division's collections. The division holds the world's most extensive Whitman collection, including the only surviving manuscript page from the first edition of Leaves of Grass (1855) and many drafts of the poet's famous dirge "O Captain! My Captain!," which was inspired by Abraham Lincoln's death.

Illustration of James McNeill Whistler's Peacock Room

Twentieth-century literary papers include representatives of a wide array of movements, forms, and points of view. The papers of western writers Owen Wister and Zane Grey reflect the popularity of local color writing at the turn of the century and of regional fiction in the 1920s and 1930s. The collections of Benjamin Holt Ticknor, Hiram Haydn, Oscar Williams, and Ken McCormick provide the perspective of literary agents and editors. Works by women range from those of the poet Muriel Rukeyser--who was concerned with the Spanish Civil War, women's rights, and the Vietnam War--to those of novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand--who championed individualism, capitalism, and anticommunism. Small but interesting collections exist for the poets Langston Hughes, Robert Frost, John Ciardi, and Louis Simpson. The division has a particular attachment to the papers of poet-dramatist Archibald MacLeish, who served as Librarian of Congress during World War II and reorganized the entire agency. The rich correspondence in MacLeish's papers include several outspoken letters from Ernest "Papa" Hemingway about the incarceration of poet Ezra Pound for pro-Fascist war broadcasts from Italy. Some other modern fiction writers represented by major collections are James M. Cain, James A. Michener, Shirley Jackson, Bernard Malamud, Truman Capote, and Philip Roth.

Theatrical papers also have a long history in the division. Actress Frances "Fanny" Kemble caused a stir visiting the Capitol during highly oratorical pre-Civil War sessions, and some seventy-five items of her papers are here. A much larger collection documents the career of classical actress Charlotte Cushman. The John Thompson Ford Papers are a rich source for theatrical history from the manager's side, also providing interesting information on the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theatre. Twentieth-century theatrical records include newer manifestations of the performing arts. Represented by major collections are film actress Lillian Gish; playwright and diplomat Clare Boothe Luce; Broadway and Hollywood director Joshua Logan; television performer Sid Caesar; actor Vincent Price; humorist and actor Groucho Marx; and well-known theatrical couples Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin and Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn.

The Library of Congress also holds some remarkable fine arts-related collections. The work of both amateur and professional artists--such as George R. West, D. M. N. Stouffer, and Charles Reed--may be discovered in collections documenting nineteenth-century scientific explorations, diplomatic missions, and military engagements. More famous artists, like portrait painter and inventor Samuel Finley Breese Morse and painter and etcher James McNeill Whistler, are represented by their own collections. The Whistler collection, which was compiled by Joseph and Elizabeth Robins Pennell, is one of the finest sources in the world for information on Whistler and his contemporaries as well as on the earlier pre-Raphaelite painters and their patrons. Sculptors Paul Wayland Bartlett, John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum, Jo Davidson, Daniel Chester French, Vinnie Ream Hoxie, Adelaide Johnson, Lee Oskar Lawrie, and William Zorach all have collections of papers in the Manuscript Division. Correspondence, client files, designs, drawings, photographs, and other materials (divided among the Library's custodial divisions) document the influential career of industrial designer Raymond Loewy and filmmakers and designers Charles and Ray Eames.

The papers of photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston, celebrated chiefly for her portraits of prominent personalities, also include information on her photographs of southern gardens and architecture. Similarly, the papers of architects Montgomery C. Meigs, William Thornton, Charles Follen McKim, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe document the design and construction of America's built environment, from bridges and aqueducts, to the United States Capitol, to award-winning modern commercial and residential structures.

Selected items relating to:

Poetry and Fiction
Painting, Sculpture, and Photography

Arts and Literature Items List | Words and Deeds

am Sep-8-97