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Matheson collection of William H. Gass letters and poetry

Identifier: MS-0315

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Scope and Contents

The collection of American author, William H. Gass, consists of 6 typescript letters and 2 published poems written by Gass. The letters of William H. Gass were written, 1961-1963, to American editor and author, Seymour Lawrence. The poem is titled "Mad Meg in the Maelstrom" (1976) and "On Place" (1985) and printed in the form of broadsides. The letters were written by Gass to Seymour Lawrence when Lawrence was director of the Atlantic Monthly Press in Boston. Previously, Lawrence had edited Wake: The Creative Magazine during its publication in the 1940s and 1950s. The letters were written by William H. Gass while he was teaching at Purdue University and just beginning to acquire recognition in his literary career. Lawrence relationship to Gass at this time was not entirely clear. The letters indicate Gass was sending manuscript material to Lawrence, so it is likely Lawrence was trying to interest Atlantic Monthly Press in publishing Gass. In the letters, Gass discussed three of his works: The Pettersen Kid, "The Reverend Jethro Furber's Change of Heart", and Omensetters's Luck. Subjects of the letters also include Gass's interest in applying for a Guggenheim grant and his admiration for the author, Katherine Anne Porter. Biographical information indicates that Gass acknowledged Gertrude Stein as one of the early influences in his style of writing. Of particular interest is the letter of September 21, 1961 in which Gass elaborates on his use of "the sentence" in The Pensersen Kid and offered "a bow to good Gertrude." Also known is the fact that a completed manuscript of Omensetter's Luck was stolen, preventing the publication of the novel until 1966. In his letter, September 5, 1963, Gass wrote that he was sending the manuscript of Omensetter's Luck. The first poem is entitled "Mad Mag in the Maelstrom." It was issued April, 1976 in a limited edition of 150 numbered and signed copies, of which the copy in the collection is No. 47. It was published by No Mountains Poetry Project and listed as Broadside Number 8. The second poem is titled "On Place." The broadside was printed at Minnesota Center for Book Arts by Coffee House Press on the occasion of Gass's lecture at Walker Art Center, October 28, 1985. The copy in the collection is number 167 of 300 signed copies.


  • Creation: 1961-1985


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is housed off-site and requires 48-hours' notice for retrieval. Contact Special Collections for more information.

This collection is open for use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. Researchers are responsible for determining any copyright questions. It is not necessary to seek our permission as the owner of the physical work to publish or otherwise use public domain materials that we have made available for use, unless Johns Hopkins University holds the copyright.

Biographical / Historical

William H. Gass, the American author, was born in Fargo, North Dakota, on July 30, 1924. Gass received his B.A. from Kenyon College in 1947. Gass did his graduate work in philosophy at Cornell University where he received his Ph.D. in 1954. Gass worked with the author, Max Black, studying the philosophy of language and the theory of the metaphor and later attended lectures given by British philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, at Cornell. After leaving Cornell, Gass taught at Purdue University in St. Louis. Gass's training as a philosopher of language is regarded as an important influence in his writings, and critics have approved his ability to combine the literary and philosophical aspects of language. For Gass, literature was simply language, and his stories and novels reveal his ongoing experiments with the sentence as the basic unit of writing.

Gass is the author of novels, short stories, and essays. Gass's first stories were published by Accent Magazine in the 1950s. His first novel Omensetter's Luck was published in 1966 and praised by Book Week for its "visual brilliance on language." Other published works include In the Heart of the Heart of the Country (1968), Willie Masters Lonesome Wife (1968), Fiction and Figures of Life (1970), On Being Blue (1976), The World within the World (1978), and Habitations of the World (1985).


1.35 Cubic Feet (8 items and 1 over-sized folder)

Language of Materials



William Howard Gass (born July 30, 1924) was an American novelist, short-story writer, essayist, critic, and former philosophy professor. The collection consists of 6 typescript letters and 2 published poems written by Gass ranging in date from 1961-1985.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The collection was given to the University by Mr. and Mrs. William Matheson in November, 1990. The accession number is 91-92.9.

Processing Information

Finding aid prepared by Joan Grattan in December 1991.

A legacy index has been adapted from a previous version of this guide: Accent Magazine 1; Atlantic Monthly Press 2; Black, Max 1; Cornell University 1; Fiction and the Figures of life 1; Gass, William H. 1,2; Habitation of the World 1; In the Heart of the Heart of the Country 1; Kenyon College 1; Lawrence, Seymour 1,2; "Mad Meg in the Maelstrom" 1,2; Omensetter's Luck 1,2; On Being Blue 1; "On Place" 1,2; The Pedersen Kid 2; Porter, Katharine Anne 2; Purdue University 1,2; "The Reverend Jethro Jurber Change of heart" 1; Stein, Gertrude 1; Walker Art Center 2; Washington University, St. Louis 1; Willie Master's Lonesome Wife 1; Wittgenstein, Ludwig 1; The World Within the World 1;
Matheson collection of William H. Gass letters and poetry
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

The Sheridan Libraries
Special Collections
3400 N Charles St
Baltimore MD 21218 USA