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Alex Smith Papers
MSS 0070  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Biography
  • Preferred Citation
  • Acquisition Information
  • Publication Rights

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Alex Smith Papers
    Identifier/Call Number: MSS 0070
    Contributing Institution: Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego
    9500 Gilman Drive
    La Jolla, California, 92093-0175
    Languages: English
    Physical Description: 11.8 Linear feet (29 archives boxes and 1 flat box)
    Date (inclusive): 1963 - 1987
    Abstract: Papers of Alex Smith, poet, writer, teacher and bibliographer. The collection includes typescripts of hundreds of Smith's poems, manuscripts of his short stories and long poems, and correspondence with a number of important literary figures including: Steve Benson, Alan Bernheimer, George Butterick, Joan Hall, and Kit Robinson.
    Creator: Smith, Alexander, 1948

    Scope and Content of Collection

    Papers of Alex Smith, poet, writer, teacher and bibliographer. The collection includes typescripts of hundreds of Smith's poems, journals, manuscripts of his short stories and long poems, and correspondence with a number of important literary figures including: Steve Benson, Alan Bernheimer, George Butterick, Joan Hall, and Kit Robinson. The bulk of the collection dates from the 1970s. Notably missing in this collection are the papers related to the scholarly work Frank O'Hara: A Comprehensive Bibliography (1979) that Smith compiled while a graduate student at the University of Connecticut.


    Alexander Dick Smith, Jr. - poet, writer, teacher and bibliographer - was born on October 10, 1948, in Portland, Maine, to Maryrose Ann Delano Smith and Alexander Dick Smith, Sr. His family moved to Groton, Connecticut, where Smith attended Robert E. Fitch Sr. High School for the years 1960-1966.
    After finishing high school, Smith went directly to Yale University in 1966. There, he met fellow poets Rodger Kamenetz, Alan Bernheimer, and Kit Robinson, with whom he maintained close ties with his life, exchanging poetry, ideas and criticism with them.
    After graduating from Yale University and a cross-country bicycle trip to San Francisco, Smith returned to Groton, Conn., and accepted a position as substitute teacher in the local school system. He proved to be an excellent teacher, and he received several offers for full-time teaching positions. However, he declined so that he could return to San Francisco where he felt he could best pursue his love of writing. Kit Robinson, Alan Bernheimer, Lyn Hejinian, and Bill Graves were a few of many poets Smith knew who were living and thriving in San Francisco and writing a style of poetry that Alex very much wanted to understand and practice himself. He lived in San Francisco for half a year, during which time he edited the only issue published of Nadine, a poetry magazine with work from writers all over the country, including Merill Gilfillan, Alan Bernheimer, Steve Benson and Rodger Kamenetz, as well as some of Smith's own work.
    Smith decided his writing would benefit from more education; thus, in 1973, he enrolled as a graduate student in the English Department at the University of Connecticut. At UConn, Smith studied Chaucer, modern and post-modern narrative, and Greek. In addition to his studies, Smith was also occupied with a graduate assistant position. During the three summers between 1974 and 1976, he worked as a research and editorial assistant to George Butterick on The Journal of the Charles Olson Archive. In 1976, Smith was awarded a monetary grant from the University of Connecticut's Computer Center, which allowed him to complete Frank O'Hara: A Comprehensive Bibliography (1979) as well as increase his computer skills.
    Throughout graduate school, Alex wrote and published poetry. In 1975, 1977 and 1978, he won first prize in the Wallace Stevens Poetry Contest. Alex's writing style had undergone a change by the time he entered graduate school. His earlier writing was heavily influenced by the New York School and was visual, iconographic, light, and humorous. As he grew older, his poems began to grow darker. Influenced by Walt Whitman and Wallace Stevens, Smith began to write what he called narrative poems - descriptions of real situations, with people interacting with each other, often very unhappily. Later, Smith began to use spelling and diction that were reminiscent of a Shakespearean and Elizabethan age. He wrote extremely long poems, such as "The Four Seasons," which were often a rewriting of works by Shakespeare. Smith called these poems "Snets."
    In Smith's letters to his friends, beginning around 1976, one can see a developing disdain for academia. He often speaks of his apathetic students, with whom he became increasingly frustrated due to their seeming indifference. Smith himself was a stellar student, maintaining straight A's in all of his courses, and he had a dwindling tolerance for bored and boring students. Thus, rather than earn his PhD and remain in academia, Smith left the University in 1980 to pursue a career in computer programming.
    In 1980, Smith was hired as a mail-room clerk for the New England Research Application Center (NERAC), a NASA sponsored agency that specialized in computer assisted information retrieval for business and industry. He moved up rapidly within the company and, by the end of 1981, was already a computer programmer. He stayed with NERAC until 1987, earning several more promotions. Smith never put aside his love of writing poetry, often composing poems while at work. Many of his poems from the eighties are scribbled on scraps of NERAC office paper.
    In March or April of 1987, Smith moved with Tom Yankowski, Smith's companion for more than ten years, to the community of Hillcrest in San Diego, California. By this time, Alex had suffered from AIDS, and he attempted simply to focus on maintaining his health and continuing his writing. In July of 1987, Rodger Kamenetz, a classmate from Yale, helped Smith to publish his only collected book of poems titled Colonizing the Red Planet. Smith died of cancer in September of 1987.

    Preferred Citation

    Alex Smith Papers, MSS 70. Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego.

    Acquisition Information

    Acquired 1994 and 2013.

    Publication Rights

    Publication rights are held by the creator of the collection.



    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Benson, Steve, 1949- -- Correspondence
    Bernheimer, Alan, 1948- -- Correspondence
    Bertholf, Robert J. -- Correspondence
    Boer, Charles, 1939- -- Correspondence
    Butterick, George F. -- Correspondence
    Button, John -- Correspondence
    Kamenetz, Rodger, 1950- -- Correspondence
    Robinson, Kit, 1949- -- Correspondence
    Smith, Alexander, 1948 -- Archives
    AIDS (Disease) -- United States
    American poetry -- 20th century
    Gay men -- United States
    Gays' writings