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Mary Oppen Papers
MSS 0125  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Access
  • Acquisition Information
  • Preferred Citation
  • Publication Rights
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Creator: Oppen, Mary, 1908-
    Title: Mary Oppen Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1913-1990
    Extent: 18.00 linear feet (9 archives boxes, 107 oversize folders, 14 free-standing items.)
    Abstract: Papers of Mary Oppen, writer, painter, and wife of poet George Oppen. The Mary Oppen Papers contain extensive photographic documentation of the Oppen family, along with art works by George and Mary Oppen and a small file of papers. The art works include wood carvings by George Oppen and paintings and collages by Mary. Included in the papers are drafts of Mary Oppen's autobiography Meaning A Life, journals (including a dream journal), and original writings by her and her husband.
    Repository: University of California, San Diego. Geisel Library. Mandeville Special Collections Library.
    La Jolla, California 92093-0175
    Collection number: MSS 0125
    Language of Material: Collection materials in English


    Collection is open for research.

    Acquisition Information

    Not Available

    Preferred Citation

    Mary Oppen Papers, MSS 0125. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UCSD.

    Publication Rights

    Publication rights are held by the creator of the collection.


    The story of Mary Oppen's life is told in an autobiography entitled Meaning A Life. Born Mary Colby in Kalispell, Montana, Oppen was raised in the Pacific Northwest. She met George Oppen in 1928 while both were students at Oregon State University. Together they travelled extensively and finally took up residence in New York City. There they joined a circle of artists and writers, among whom were the poets Charles Reznikoff and Louis Zukofsky. During the 1930s the Oppens involved themselves in leftist political movements and joined the Communist Party U.S.A in 1935 after the seventh World Congress of the Communist Parties called for intellectuals to join in a united front against fascism and war. After the second World War, in which George Oppen was wounded while serving in the European theater, the Oppens were persecuted by the US government for their leftist activities during the depression. Rather than testify against friends and associates, the Oppens decided to flee to Mexico in 1950, where they found their way to Mexico City's United States emigre and refugee circle. In the late 1950s George Oppen began writing again after a 25 year hiatus and the Oppens soon relocated to New York City. In the later part of the 1960s, the Oppens took up residence in the San Francisco Bay area, which is where George's family was largely located. For a time, they summered at Deer Isle, Maine, where they entertained a number of east coast writers such as Ted Enslin, Rachel DuPlessis, and John Taggart. George Oppen died in 1984; Mary died six years later, on 14 May 1990. Both are survived by a daughter, Linda Oppen Morelatos.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    Mary Oppen's papers have research value in that they reflect the life and career of her husband, distinguished poet George Oppen. However, Mary Oppen was an artist and a writer herself, though of a lesser distinction and fame than her husband. In addition, she maintained a vital, animated role in the community of poets, painters, and activists who surrounded George Oppen.
    The papers of Mary Oppen are divided into five series: WRITINGS, MISCELLANEOUS MATERIALS, CORRESPONDENCE, ARTWORKS and PHOTOGRAPHS.
    Mary Oppen was a prolific artist, producing hundreds of sizeable paintings and collages and competent etchings and sketches. Her work conveniently divides itself among decades and their matching media: the oils of the 1950s, the etchings of the 1960s, the mixed-media collages of the 1970s, and the water-color collages of the 1980s. Several of her works have been exhibited.
    The MISCELLANEOUS MATERIALS series includes essential George Oppen documents, as well as her own, of course. Dated address books help document succession of friendships and contacts out of which the poetry and politics of George and Mary Oppen grew.
    Perhaps the most important series is the PHOTOGRAPHS. Several large family albums provide the record of a life shared, among writers and artists only now achieving recognition. The PHOTOGRAPHS series affords us glimpses into the world which George and Mary Oppen inhabited--one which was not officially recorded by the arbitrers of taste or by academics in a depoliticized postwar America.
    Included at the end of the Artwork series are several wood carvings done by George Oppen.
    Notes on the collection made by Linda Oppen Mourelatos and Geoffrey Wexler are kept in an acquisition folder.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.


    Oppen, Mary, 1908- -- Archives
    Oppen, George
    American poetry -- 20th century
    Women poets -- United States
    Diaries -- 20th century
    Photographic prints -- 20th century.
    Oppen, Mary, 1908- -- Archives
    Art, American -- 20th century


    Oppen, Linda, -- correspondent
    Booth, Philip, -- correspondent
    Bronk, William, -- correspondent
    Corman, Cid, -- correspondent
    Cuddihy, Michael, -- correspondent
    Dembo, L. S., -- correspondent
    Fauchereau, Serge, -- correspondent
    Laughlin, James, 1914- , -- correspondent
    Shapiro, Harvey, 1924- , -- correspondent
    Taggart, John, 1942- , -- correspondent
    Tomlinson, Charles, 1927- , -- correspondent
    Weinberger, Eliot, -- correspondent
    Oppen, Mary, 1908- . -- Meaning a life
    Oppen, Mary, 1908- . -- Mother and daughter and the sea
    Oppen, Mary, 1908- . -- Poems & transpositions