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Charles Bernstein Papers
MSS 0519  
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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: Bernstein, Charles, 1950-
    Title: Charles Bernstein Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1962-2000
    Extent: 50.00 linear feet (129 archives boxes, 5 card file boxes and 5 oversize folders)
    Abstract: Papers of Charles Bernstein, writer, editor, librettist, educator, and publisher, who is most often associated with L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, a body of writing named for the journal (1978-1982) by this name which Bernstein co-edited with Bruce Andrews. Bernstein writes poetry, essays and librettos which foreground the materiality and sociality of language as it exists in different contexts. The papers include correspondence with writers, artists, publishers and friends; manuscript drafts and production materials for his collected works, especially CONTENT'S DREAM (1986), A POETICS (1992) and MY WAY (1998); notebooks and journals (1971-1994); and uncollected poem drafts and working papers. Also included are drafts for the multi-authored poem LEGEND written with Ray DiPalma, Bruce Andrews, Steve McCaffery, and Ron Silliman. Bernstein's editorial work on Asylum's Press publications, the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Journal, the Segue Catalog, BOUNDRY 2: 43 POETS and BOUNDRY 2: 99 POETS, as well as numerous smaller projects are well represented. The papers also contain correspondence and drafts for music theater projects, book reviews of his published work, critical essays on Bernstein, teaching materials, conference planning materials, and spoken word audio recording of readings and lectures, as well as several videotapes. Also included are high school and college notebooks and papers and freelance medical writings. The papers are arranged in fifteen series: 1) CORRESPONDENCE, 2) EDUCATIONAL MATERIALS, 3) NOTEBOOKS, 4) COLLECTED WORKS, 5) COLLABORATIONS AND TRANSLATIONS, 6) MUSIC THEATER, 7) UNCOLLECTED WORK, 8) EDITORIAL WORK, 9) REVIEWS AND CRITICISM, 10) MEDICAL WRITING, 11) TEACHING MATERIALS, 12) CONFERENCES, 13) MISCELLANEOUS MATERIALS, 14) RECORDINGS, and 15) ORIGINALS OF PRESERVATION PHOTOCOPIES.
    Repository: University of California, San Diego. Geisel Library. Mandeville Special Collections Library.
    La Jolla, California 92093-0175
    Collection number: MSS 0519
    Language of Material: Collection materials in English


    Letters of recommendation located in Box 31, Folder 14 are restricted until 2025.

    Acquisition Information

    Not Available

    Preferred Citation

    Charles Bernstein Papers, MSS 0519. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UCSD.

    Publication Rights

    Publication rights are held by the creator of the collection.


    Charles Kegel Bernstein was born on April 4, 1950, in New York City. As a student at the Bronx High School of Science, Bernstein edited and wrote for the school newspaper, SCIENCE SURVEY, and was active in his synogogue's youth group. Before entering Harvard University in 1968, Bernstein met visual artist Susan Bee, whom he would later marry and with whom he occasionally collaborates.
    During his years at Harvard University, Bernstein studied philosophy with Stanley Cavell and wrote his final thesis on Gertrude Stein and Ludwig Wittgenstein, portions of which were later published. After receiving his A.B. in 1972, Bernstein and Bee moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, and then the following year to Santa Barbara where he worked part-time as a community health education coordinator. In 1974, the two moved back to New York City.
    Over the next ten years, as Bernstein became an established poet, he earned his income by editing and writing for medical and healthcare publications. During this time, Bernstein was very active in the experimental poetry scenes of New York, San Francisco and Toronto, not only as a poet, but also as an editor and publisher. Bernstein and Bee started Asylum's Press, which brought out some of their collaborations as well as the works of other poets who are now well-known. In New York, he met Bruce Andrews, with whom he founded and co-edited the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Journal, the name also given to the loosely connected group of experimental writers with whom Bernstein has been most closely associated. In conjunction with the magazine, Bernstein co-founded Segue Distribution service, which made small press publications more accessible to readers.
    In 1990, Bernstein was appointed David Gray Professor of Poetry and Letters at the State University of New York in Buffalo, where he continues to exert a significant literary influence through his continued teaching, writing and editing; the on-line Poetics discussion list which he founded and initially moderated, and the Electronic Poetry Center for which he serves as the main advisor.
    As a writer, Bernstein works in a wide range of styles, showing that there is no "natural" voice or register for poetry or any other sort of writing. Like many associated with L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E writing, Bernstein foregrounds the materiality of language and extends the experimentalism often associated with the Black Mountain and New York Schools of poetry and other arts. Bernstein's work is also significantly influenced by figures such as Gertrude Stein, Laura (Riding) Jackson and Ezra Pound, as well as his background in philosophy, evident in his early work on Wittgenstein.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The Charles Bernstein Papers document his career as a writer, librettist, editor, publisher, and to a lesser extent, his career as an educator. The papers reflect Bernstein's central place in a large community of poets and artists loosely associated with L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, many of whom were based in New York City and California. The papers include correspondence from writers, artists, publishers, and friends; notebooks and journals (1971-1994); and early manuscript drafts; manuscripts and typescripts of Bernstein's published works, and freelance medical journal writing. Also included are extensive materials related to Bernstein's editorial work; publicity materials; recordings of poetry readings and lectures; datebooks; High school and college materials; and other early biographical materials.
    The CORRESPONDENCE series, the most extensive in the collection, contains correspondence with writers, artists, editors, and friends, especially Bruce Andrews, Abigail Child, Robert Creeley, Ted Greenwald, Dick Higgins, Hank Lazer, Steve McCaffery, Douglas Messerli, Marjorie Perloff, Ron Silliman, and Barrett Watten. The series includes enclosures, often drafts of poems from the correspondent, that are filed with the accompanying letter. The correspondence is arranged alphabetically.
    The EDUCATIONAL MATERIALS series is arranged in three subseries: A) Bronx High School of Science, B) Harvard College and C) King Fellowship.
    A) The Bronx High School of Science subseries consists of materials (1966-1968) related to and generated during Bernstein's years as a student at the Bronx High School of Science, including copies of yearbooks and SCIENCE SURVEY, the school newspaper which Bernstein edited and for which he wrote articles and reviews. Also included are handwritten essays and a notebook in which Bernstein wrote letters, thoughts, journal entries, and notable quotations.
    B) The Harvard College subseries contains materials related to Bernstein's undergraduate education at Harvard University. Included are theater materials containing scripts, publicity, and production materials; notebooks associated with academic classes; and ephemera related to the anti-war protests and sit-ins at Harvard University. There is also a substantial folder of miscellaneous writings, including poetry and critical prose.
    C) The King Fellowship subseries contains materials related to Bernstein's academic work in Vancouver, British Columbia.
    The NOTEBOOKS series consists of early journals and notebooks (1971-1994) which document the development of Bernstein's writing, particularly as it relates to events in his life. The early notebooks contain more of what could be described as "personal writing," including explicit and transparent references which remain for the most part outside of Bernstein's published oeuvre. These notebooks also contain quotations and drafts of early poetry.
    The COLLECTED WRITINGS series is arranged chronologically in sixteen subseries. In general, each title contains manuscripts, typescripts, paste-ups, and correspondence with publishers. Most of the original drafts for the various prose and poems can be found in Bernstein's notebooks.
    The COLLABORATIONS/TRANSLATIONS series consists of work which Bernstein wrote with others, including translations of Claude Royet-Journoud's "Les Objects." Most prominent in this subseries is LEGEND, a multi-authored poem written over several years by Bernstein, Bruce Andrews, Ray DiPalma, Steve McCaffery, and Ron Silliman.
    The MUSIC THEATER series consists of Bernstein's libretti which he wrote in collaborations with the composers Ben Yarmolinsky and Dean Drummond. It includes drafts, manuscripts, notes, and publicity materials, and is arranged chronologically according to the first performance date of the particular piece.
    The UNCOLLECTED WORK series consisted of three subseries: A) Working Papers, B) Typescripts and C) Discarded Manuscripts. The Working Papers subseries consists of the original notes and drafts for various prose and poetry collected in Bernstein's books, and have been left in their original order. The Typescripts subseries consists of typed copies of poems, some of which are marked for performance, others of which it is unclear why they were grouped together. The Discarded Manuscripts subseries consists of papers which Bernstein filed under the heading "Discarded Manuscripts," including portions of published texts, fragments and unidentifiable texts.
    The EDITORIAL WORK series is one of the most substantial in the collection as it includes significant materials and correspondence with other writers related to Bernstein's editorial work, as well as his central place in larger community of writiers and artists. It is arranged chronologically in eighteen subseries.
    A) The Asylum's Press (1978-1980) subseries contains a grant application, a few manuscripts of others, cover artwork and general notes, mailing lists and correspondence related to this small press which Bernstein founded.
    B) The Ear Inn (1978-1989) subseries consists of the lists of the performers for the weekly reading series which Bernstein co-organized with Ted Greenwald.
    C) The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Journal (1978-1981) subseries is the most substantial in the collection, and contains significant materials relating to every issue of the journal. Where possible, materials such as paste-ups, correspondence, submissions and notes have been grouped according to their appearance in the published version. This subseries also includes reviews and citations of the journal, materials regarding the founding of the journal, notes on future journals, correspondence with Bruce Andrews, mailing lists, publicity, and other organizational and financial materials.
    D) Radio Project (1980-1982) subseries consists of materials related to a proposal for a radio program made by Bernstein and Susan Howe.
    E) The Segue Catalog (1980-1992) subseries consists of materials related to the production and distribution of the Segue Catalogs during the years Bernstein produced them. Segue was instrumental in helping to distribute a wide range of small poetry magazines, journals and presses, which otherwise would be hard to find.
    F) The CHANGE (Paris, early 1980s) subseries consists of materials related to the publication of a special issue of CHANGE (a French poetry journal) on Language poetry. It includes manuscripts, correspondence and other organizational materials.
    G) The "Language Sampler," THE PARIS REVIEW (1982-1983) subseries consists of notes, correspondence and authors' manuscripts which Bernstein selected and edited for publication in THE PARIS REVIEW. Also included is Bernstein's manuscript draft for the introduction to the special section.
    H) THE L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E BOOK (1983) subseries consists of materials related to the publication of THE L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E BOOK (co-edited by Bruce Andrews), which consists of a selection of works originally published in the journal. It includes editorial notes; correspondence with Southern Illinois University Press and the contributors, including permissions, manuscripts and galley proofs with their corrections; paste-ups and page proofs; publicity materials; and other financial and organizational materials.
    I) The NY Talk (1983-1989) subseries consists of materials related to the series of talks which Bernstein produced in association with St. Mark's Poetry. Included in this subseries are funding and publicity materials, correspondence, notes, and other organizational records such as mailing lists and receipts.
    J) The BOUNDARY 2: 43 Poets (1986) subseries consists of materials related to an issue of BOUNDARY 2 which Bernstein edited. It includes correspondence with the authors, manuscripts, typescripts, page proofs with authors' corrections and other organizational materials.
    K) The "L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Lines," subseries contains work included in THE LINE IN POSTMODERN POETRY (1988), edited by Henry Sayre and Robert Frank. The subseries consists of notes and correspondence from Bernstein and Bruce Andrews related to their co-editing of a selection of Language writers' pieces focused on the "line." Also included are the contributors' submissions and correspondence, as well as correspondence between Bernstein and Andrews and the main editors.
    L) The TYUONYI, Issue #6-7 subseries consists of materials related to the publication of a special double issue of the serial, TYUONYI, usually edited by Phillip Foss. For this particular issue, Foss asked Bernstein to co-edit journal which would consist of a selection of poet's response to particular questions, as well as a list of their published works. This subseries includes manuscripts, and correspondence between Bernstein and Foss, as well as with the authors.
    M) The POLITICS OF THE POETIC FORM (1990) subseries consists of materials related to the editing and publication of POLITICS OF THE POETIC FORM (1990), including authors' manuscripts, correspondence, typescripts, paste-ups, and page proofs.
    N) The TXT #31 (1993) subseries consists of materials related to the publication of issue #31 of the French serial TXT, co-edited by Susan Howe and Bernstein in collaboration with Raymond Federman. It includes photocopies of the authors' text which were translated and reprinted in the issue.
    O) The LIVE AT THE EAR INN CD (1994) subseries consists of materials related to the recording and publication of the LIVE AT THE EAR INN, "the first audio anthology of Language Poetry." It includes Bernstein's notes and lists of what material to include, production materials, including correspondence with the label, Oracular Laboratory Recordings, and manuscripts and typescripts of the materials included in the CD booklet.
    P) The "Line Break" (Radio Show, 1996) subseries consists of materials related to Bernstein's work as a producer and host for the radio show, "Line Break," which showcased audio art and poetry. Co-produced by Martin Spinelli, the show broadcast a range of audio art and poetry over the course of its one year existence. The subseries contains internal correspondence and production notes, Bernstein's interview notes and scripts, as well as publicity and other materials relating to the show and WBFO, the local NPR station in Buffalo, New York.
    Q) The CLOSE LISTENING (1998) subseries consists of materials related to Bernstein's editing of the book, CLOSE LISTENING, including his notes from a 1996 graduate seminar on "Language and Performance" which Bernstein taught at SUNY Buffalo. Also included are his notes and drafts for the introduction, authors' manuscripts, typescripts, and authors' correspondence regarding the page proofs.
    R) The BOUNDARY 2: 99 Poets (1999) subseries consists of materials related to Bernstein's editing of a special volume of BOUNDARY 2 on international poetry and poetics. Included are authors' manuscripts and correspondence, as well as Bernstein's correspondence with Paul Bove on the preparation of a proposal for the special issue. Also included are the copy-edited manuscripts, galleys with authors' and editors' corrections and page proofs.
    The REVIEWS, CRITICISM AND INTERVIEWS series is arranged in three subseries: A) Book Reviews, B) Criticism of Bernstein and C) Interviews.
    A) The Book Reviews subseries, arranged alphabetically by title, contains reviews of many of Bernstein's collected works.
    B) The Criticism of Bernstein subseries includes essays, published and unpublished, that examine Bernstein's work.
    C) The Interviews subseries includes several published interviews with Bernstein.
    The MEDICAL WRITINGS series, arranged alphabetically by the company, documents Bernsteins freelance and contract journal article writing (1974-1989) for medical newsletters and magazines. Included are materials related to his work for the Freedom Community Clinic in Santa Barbara.
    The TEACHING MATERIALS series contains notes, assignments and lesson plans for a workshop Bernstein taught at St. Mark's Poetry Center in 1980.
    The CONFERENCES series includes several files documenting conferences Bernstein attended or helped to plan.
    The MISCELLANEOUS MATERIALS series is arranged in two subseries: A) Biographical and B) Datebooks. The first subseries contains Bernstein's curriculum vitae, resumes and Selective Service materials, while the second contains datebooks and address books.
    The RECORDINGS series is arranged in five subseries: A) Audiocassettes - Bernstein Readings, B) Audiocassettes - Bernstein Lectures, C) Reel-to-Reel Audiotapes, D) Videocassettes, and E) Reading Announcements.
    A) The Audiocassettes - Bernstein Readings subseries contains a collection of recorded readings numbered by Bernstein and generally in chronological order. The readings often included other poets.
    B) The Audiocassettes - Bernstein Lecture subseries, numbered by Bernstein, largely includes lectures in university venues or radio broadcasts.
    C) The Reel-to-Reel Audiotape subseries contains recording from the 1970s and documents Bernstein's work for the Freedom Community Clinic in Santa Barbara, as well as an early reading with Ray DiPalma.
    D) The Videocattettes subseries contains two VHS tapes.
    E) The Reading Announcements comprise a collection of flyers for Bernstein readings, arranged chronologically.
    The ORIGINALS OF PRESERVATION PHOTOCOPIES series contains the originals of brittle or high acid content documents that have been photocopied.

    Indexing Terms

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


    Bernstein, Charles, 1950- -- Archives
    Language (New York, N.Y.) -- Archives
    Asylum Press -- Archives
    Segue Books -- Archives
    American poetry -- 20th century


    Child, Abigail, -- correspondent
    Silliman, Ronald, 1946- -- correspondent
    Perloff, Marjorie, -- correspondent
    Andrews, Bruce, 1948- -- correspondent
    Messerli, Douglas, 1947- -- correspondent
    Watten, Barrett, -- correspondent
    McCaffery, Steve, -- correspondent
    Higgins, Dick, 1938- -- correspondent
    Creeley, Robert, 1926- -- correspondent
    Greenwald, Ted, -- correspondent
    Lazer, Hank, -- correspondent