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Gifford (Barry) papers
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Conditions Governing Access
  • Biographical / Historical
  • Preferred Citation
  • Scope and Contents
  • Conditions Governing Use

  • Language of Material: English
    Contributing Institution: Department of Special Collections and University Archives
    Title: Barry Gifford papers
    Identifier/Call Number: M0927
    Physical Description: 63 Linear Feet (75 boxes, 1 flat box, 1 map folder)
    Date (inclusive): circa 1967 - 2021

    Conditions Governing Access

    Open for research. Note that material must be requested at least 36 hours in advance of intended use. Audiovisual and born-digital materials are not available in original format and must be reformatted to a digital use copy.

    Biographical / Historical

    Poet, biographer, novelist, memoirist, and essayist, Barry Gifford was born October 18, 1946 in Chicago to Adolph, a pharmacist, and Dorothy Colby Gifford, a model. He was raised in Chicago and in Key West and Tampa, Florida. Gifford attended the University of Missouri where he played baseball. After leaving college, Gifford served in the Air Force Reserves, and worked variously as a merchant seaman, musician, journalist, editor, and truck driver.
    Gifford, a prolific writer, has penned more than thirty books in a number of genres. His works include poetry, short fiction, novels, essays, biographies, memoir, and dramatic plays. Critics have acclaimed his work as colorful, quirky, and unique. Reviewer Jay Tolson (Los Angeles Times Book Review) praised Gifford for avoiding "facile or fashionable explanations [of the mystery of life]."
    Others have noted Gifford's frequent explorations of the boundaries of traditional literary genres, as when he blended memoir and fiction in a biography of his father. He also co-authored an unconventional "oral" biography of writer Jack Kerouac, basing the account almost entirely on interviews with Kerouac's friends and acquaintances. In the Saturday Review, Bruce Cook called the book "first rate" and admired its portrayal of "a sense of Kerouac the man." Gifford's study of Beat personalities continued with a volume of letters he edited called As Ever: The Collected Correspondence of Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady.
    Gifford's ability to evoke characters and moods in different regions of the country stems from his longtime fascination with language, one he traces back to his early years listening to his father's gangster friends in Chicago. Some of his work also reveals the impact of his self-identified literary influences: Jack London, Jack Kerouac, B. Traven, Ezra Pound, Emily Dickinson, Jean Rhys, Marcel Proust, and Gustave Flaubert.
    In the late 1980s, Gifford's fourth novel caught the eye of director David Lynch, who adapted it into the screenplay and motion picture of the same name. Wild at Heart won the Palme d'Or, the highest honor, at the Cannes Film Festival in 1990. The success of this film spurred the popularity of Gifford's novels. Gifford subsequently wrote increasingly surreal fiction about the characters from Wild at Heart. He has also collaborated with Lynch on several other projects, most recently on the screenplay Lost Highway and teleplays for HBO about a mysterious hotel in New Orleans.
    All told, Gifford has published more than thirty volumes. Among his many projects, T he Devil Thumbs a Ride and other Unforgettable Films, is a collection of essays on film noir. He has also written 11 volumes of poetry, several short stories and novellas, a biography (with Lawrence Lee) of William Saroyan, and ten novels. They are Landscape with Traveler, Port Tropique, An Unfortunate Woman, Wild at Heart, 59° and Raining: The Story of Perdita Durango, A Good Man to Know, Arise and Walk, Baby Cat-Face, Perdita Durango, and, most recently, The Sinaloa Story.
    Gifford has been the recipient of the Maxwell Perkins Award from PEN, a Fellowship in Creative Writing for Fiction from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Art Directors Club of New York Merit Award, and a PEN Syndicate Fiction prize.
    Gifford lives with his wife, Mary Lou Nelson, and two children in Berkeley, California.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item] Barry Gifford Papers, M0927, Dept. of Special Collections, Stanford Libraries, Stanford, Calif.

    Scope and Contents

    The Barry Gifford Papers comprise more than forty-eight boxes of archival material, the vast majority of which related to the publication process of Gifford's many books. The largest subseries is composed of manuscript material, including correspondence with publishers and editors, typewritten and handwritten drafts of books, and research materials. As well, there are fifteen boxes of Gifford's notebooks, which contain partial drafts of books as well as individual poems, journal entries, and memoranda. There is also a significant file of correspondence, notable primarily for the six boxes of letters Gifford wrote to his longtime friend and associate, bookseller Marshall Clements. Finally, the collection contains copies of books and other published material used in his research.

    Conditions Governing Use

    While Special Collections is the owner of the physical and digital items, permission to examine collection materials is not an authorization to publish. These materials are made available for use in research, teaching, and private study. Any transmission or reproduction beyond that allowed by fair use requires permission from the owners of rights, heir(s) or assigns.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Authors, American -- 20th century.