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Finding Aid to the Thom Gunn Papers, 1930-2004, bulk 1950-2004
BANC MSS 2006/235  
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Collection Details
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  • Collection Summary
  • Information for Researchers
  • Administrative Information
  • Biographical Information
  • Scope and Content of Collection

  • Collection Summary

    Collection Title: Thom Gunn papers
    Date (inclusive): 1930-2004,
    Date (bulk): bulk 1950-2004
    Collection Number: BANC MSS 2006/235
    Creators : Gunn, Thom
    Extent: Number of containers: 11 cartons, 1 box, 2 oversize boxes, 22 oversize folders, and 6 volumes Linear feet: 19.15
    Repository: The Bancroft Library
    University of California, Berkeley
    Berkeley, California, 94720-6000
    Phone: (510) 642-6481
    Fax: (510) 642-7589
    Email: bancref@library.berkeley.edu
    URL: http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/
    Abstract: The Thom Gunn Papers consist of correspondence, personal papers (diaries and scrapbooks detailing his life and career), notebooks of poetry and prose, writings (both poetry and prose), professional papers, teaching materials, writings by other poets and authors, and a small collection of alternative (mostly gay) newspapers.
    Languages Represented: Collection materials are in English
    Physical Location: Many of the Bancroft Library collections are stored offsite and advance notice may be required for use. For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.

    Information for Researchers


    Collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    All requests to reproduce, publish, quote from or otherwise use collection materials must be submitted in writing to the Head of Public Services, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 94720-6000. Consent is given on behalf of The Bancroft Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission from the copyright owner. Such permission must be obtained from the copyright owner. See: http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/reference/permissions.html .
    Restrictions also apply to digital representations of the original materials. Use of digital files is restricted to research and educational purposes.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Thom Gunn Papers, BANC MSS 2006/235, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

    Alternate Forms Available

    There are no alternate forms of this collection.
    Additional Notes on Collection:
    BANC MSS 87/1 c, Thom Gunn poetry notebooks, 1968-1973 [Notebook numbers: I - XIV] were incorporated into this collection.

    Related Collections

    Thom Gunn manuscripts of poems, 1952-1984, BANC MSS C-H 138
    Thom Gunn letters, 1968-1969, BANC MSS 71/81 c
    Thom Gunn letters : San Francisco, Calif., to John Haffenden, 1979-1980, BANC MSS 2007/24
    Belle Randall Collection of Thom Gunn Letters, BANC MSS 2008/252
    Photographs from the Thom Gunn papers [graphic]. ca. 1950-ca. 2000, BANC PIC 2008.063-PIC
    Edward DeCelle papers, 1969-2001, BANC MSS 2005/185 c
    Jess papers, 1941-2004 (bulk 1962-1997), BANC MSS 2006/203
    Josephine Miles papers, 1911-1986, BANC MSS 86/107 c
    Collage from the office walls of poet Thom Gunn, BANC PIC 2012.056

    Separated Material

    Printed materials have been transferred to the book collection of The Bancroft Library.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
    Gunn, Thom--Archives
    Faculty papers.
    Manuscripts for publication.
    University of California, Berkeley. Dept. of English

    Administrative Information

    Acquisition Information

    The Thom Gunn papers were purchased by The Bancroft Library on December 2, 2006.


    No additions are expected.

    System of Arrangement

    Arranged to the folder level.

    Processing Information

    Processed by Dean Smith in 2007-2008.

    Biographical Information

    Thom Gunn [Thomas William Gunn] was born in Gravesend, England in 1929. His father, Herbert Smith, and his mother, Ann Charlotte Thompson Gunn, were both journalists. His parents divorced when he was nine. At the age of 15, Gunn and his younger brother Ander found their mother dead from suicide. Gunn served in the British Army for two years, from 1948 to 1950. After serving in the army, Gunn lived in Paris for a year and began to write seriously. He then attended Trinity College at Cambridge, where he focused on writing poetry.
    Gunn's first collection of poems, Fighting Terms, was published in 1954. It was this same year he met his lover and life-partner of 40 years, Mike Kitay, who followed him to the States; the two settled in San Francisco. His adopted home in America soon became an essential part of his work. In a San Francisco Chronicle interview, Gunn said coming to America "changed everything for me."
    Gunn pursued graduate studies at Stanford University with poet Yvor Winters from 1954 to 1958. Winters was to become a second father figure to Gunn, though it was a difficult relationship as Winters rejected all that Gunn wrote after 1958, calling his poetry "journalism." Gunn published his second collection of poems, The Sense of Movement, in 1957.
    Gunn was offered a teaching job at the University of California, Berkeley in 1958 and left his graduate studies at Stanford, never to finish his doctorate. Aside from occasional trips to England and a year teaching in San Antonio, Texas, Gunn taught at Berkeley and lived in San Francisco until his death in 2004. What is frequently regarded as his best-known early collection of poems, My Sad Captains, was published in 1961. The ensuing 1960s and '70s were to see Gunn partaking in the counter-cultures of the hippie movement and gay liberation.
    Gunn's poetry is recognized as defying any kind of easy categorization, and it was his use of LSD during the '60s that opened vistas to new possibilities in form and subject matter in his work. This newfound freedom of expression was explored in books of poems such as, Moly (1971) and Jack Straw's Castle (1976). Despite a lack of signature style, Gunn received numerous awards and prizes throughout his career, including: a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1971, a coveted MacArthur Fellowship Prize in 1993, and an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award of Merit in 1998.
    Often being described as a gay poet, Gunn was to write honestly and unsentimentally about all aspects of gay life; but his themes were of wide enough interest to appeal to a broad readership beyond the gay community. As Gunn himself described in a San Francisco Examiner interview in 1998, "Obviously, I am a gay writer because I write about gay themes, but I also write about other things and I don't want to be restricted in the way that somebody would be called a landscape painter or a writer of boys stories. I don't think I write just one kind of poem."
    Gunn was to lose many friends during the onset of AIDS in the 1980s. This loss was voiced movingly, though in his characteristically unsentimental manner, in the collection of poems, The Man with Night Sweats (1992). Almost a decade later, with AIDS having shifted in the States from frightening epidemic to managed disease, Gunn explored the theme of Eros in all its sexual guises in Boss Cupid (2000).
    Throughout his long career Gunn's work made little of the distinctions between high and low art, finding no subject taboo; as a result, his poetry has been praised for its contemporary and immediate qualities. Although embracing popular culture, Gunn delved deeper, with great subtlety and wit, than the surface qualities of Pop. As Gunn explained, "People tend to think poetry as existing on a different plane than the novel or nonfiction, that it is necessarily mystical or spiritual in some undefined way. But of course it's everything."

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The Thom Gunn Papers consist of correspondence, personal papers (diaries and scrapbooks detailing his life and career), notebooks of poetry and prose, writings (both poetry and prose), professional papers, teaching materials, writings by other poets and authors, and a small collection of alternative (mostly gay) newspapers.
    The correspondence is divided into three sub-series: Letters from Thom Gunn, General Correspondence, and Wall Collage Correspondence. Letters from Thom Gunn is primarily his correspondence to John Holmstrom with a small amount of miscellany. The General Correspondence is fairly substantive and includes letters to Gunn from many notable literary figures. Wall Collage Correspondence consists of photocopies of correspondence and notes found on postcards, greeting cards, etc. found in Thom Gunn's wall collage in his home study.
    Gunn's personal papers are divided into three sub-series: Diaries, Scrapbooks, and Personal Miscellany. There are small clutch of diaries written in Gunn's small, tight handwriting in a brief notational manner. But it is the six volumes of scrapbooks that capture visually, and with judicious use of letters, photographs and ephemera, the arc of his life both personally and professionally, and the evolution of gay culture from the 1950s through the mid-70s. The series concludes with a small amount a personal miscellany that includes address books, a few artworks and portraits of Gunn, and gay ephemera mostly from the 1980s and 90s.
    The notebooks are divided into three sub-series: Poetry Notebooks, Prose Notebooks, and Other Notebooks. The Poetry Notebooks are an incredible view into the working mind of a poet and detail the many revisions Gunn exacted upon his poems. A previous collection of Gunn's early Poetry Notebooks (BANC MSS 87/1 c, Thom Gunn poetry notebooks, 1968-1973 [Notebook numbers: I - XIV]) were incorporated into this collection, thus reuniting and making a complete run from 1967-1997. The Prose Notebooks are few and many undated. Both the Poetry and Prose Notebooks contained many loose pages slipped in throughout; these pages were removed and foldered separately in order found and follow each respective notebook so as to minimize wear and tear. The series concludes with Other Notebooks which fall outside the scope of the previous two sub-series.
    The writings of Gunn are divided into nine sub-series: Poetry, Broadsides; Poetry, Collected Poems; Poetry, Other Poems; Prose, Anthology; Prose, Criticism; Prose, Essays; Prose, Fiction; Prose, Lectures; and Prose, Other. All writings are organized first hierarchically, then by title, and then chronologically. Most of the writings, both poetry and prose, represent finished/published works or works that are being prepared for publication (printing galleys, proofs, etc.). The few drafts of works are mainly to be found in the Prose sub-series.
    Gunn's professional papers are divided into four sub-series: Awards, Publicity, Poetry Readings Materials, and Professional Miscellany. The series is arranged first hierarchically, then alphabetically, and then chronologically. The sub-series Awards represents his achievements from the mid-80s to the year before his death in 2003. Publicity covers a variety of subjects that illustrate Gunn's influence in both popular and academic media, i.e. publication announcements, reviews, articles, critical studies (of Gunn's work) among other items. Poetry Reading Materials includes flyers and programs of readings Gunn gave as well as several programs of other poets, and the copious, if not exhaustive, list of poems that Gunn had read at various readings and copies of his poems that he annotated for the same. Professional Miscellany includes such items as Gunn's chronology and curriculum vitae, as well as an issue of Bulletin of Bibliography devoted to Gunn and various symposia and exhibition materials that featured Gunn's poetry.
    Gunn's papers regarding teaching are divided into two sub-series: Course Materials and Teaching Miscellany which are arranged numerically, then hierarchically, and then chronologically. Course Materials are syllabi, exam guides, lecture notes, and course readers for the various courses Gunn taught from the 1980s through 90s. Teaching Miscellany represents papers devoted to Gunn's academic appointment at the University of California at Berkeley, i.e. his curriculum vitae, biography for academic personnel, annual supplement to his bio-bibliography, promotion and merit increase materials. This series is rounded out with miscellaneous papers that fall outside his teaching appointment at U.C. Berkeley.
    The series Writings by Others is arranged alphabetically and then chronologically, and contains the numerous writings by various authors and poets, both friends and colleagues, sent to Gunn either for review or as a gift.
    The Newspaper Collection, arranged alphabetically and then chronologically, represents various alternative papers, mostly published for the gay community, that Gunn had collected for various personal and professional reasons.