Stuart Wright Collection: John Montague Papers

Manuscript Collection #1169-095
Montague, John
Physical description
0.25 Cubic Feet, 1 archival box, 1 item, 63 p.
Preferred Citation
Stuart Wright Collection: John Montague Papers (#1169-095), East Carolina Manuscript Collection, J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, USA.
ECU Manuscript Collection
No restrictions

Papers of John Montague (1978) documenting the life and literary career of the Brooklyn, New York-born, Irish-raised poet; consisting of the photocopy typescript of a poem entitled The Great Cloak; transferred from the Stuart Wright Book Collection, 12/1/2014.

Biographical/historical information

John Montague was born in New York, NY, on 28 February 1929. His father, James Montague, was an Ulster Catholic from Country Tyrone, who had immigrated to the United States to work with his brother John, who operated a "speakeasy" or illegal drinking establishment. His mother Molly (Carney) Montague followed her husband to New York in 1928, with her two older sons, and John was born the following year. In 1933, James Montague sent his three sons back to Ireland. John was sent to live with his father's two spinster aunts in Garvaghey. In Ireland, John worked on the farm, doing chores, and living in a decaying, once handsome home.

After an education in local schools, John attended St. Patrick's College, Armagh, on a scholarship. Armagh was the junior diocesan seminary, where John's Jesuit uncle was once a student. At Armagh, John studied under Sean O'Boyle, an expert on Ulster folksongs and Irish poetry. He absorbed O'Boyle's love of Irish traditional poetry. Montague also attended University College, Dublin (1946), which he found a more introverted and melancholy place, but where he met fellow students, like Thomas Kinsella, who were likewise interested in Irish poetry. It was while at University College, Dublin, that Montague published his first poems in The Dublin Magazine, Envoy, and The Bell. In 1953, Montague left Ireland to study at Yale University on a Fulbright Scholarship.

At Yale, Montague associated with such luminaries as Robert Penn Warren, Saul Bellow, Rene Wellek, and W. K. Wimsatt. He attended the Indiana Summer School of Letters where he heard Richard Wilbur, Leslie Fiedler, and John Crowe Ransom, who encouraged Montague and helped him find a job at the Iowa Writers' Workshop (1954-1955). There, he also met the woman – Madeleine - who was to become his first wife. She was also in Iowa on a Fulbright scholarship.

In the later 1950s, Montague moved to California, where he attended the University of California at Berkeley but, after a year, decided to return to Ireland. There, in 1956, he married Madeleine and settled into a house on Herbert Street, Dublin, near the home of Brendan Behan, the noted Irish poet. However, Montague quickly relocated to Paris, where he lived near the ex-patriate Irish poet, Samuel Beckett, with whom he eventually developed a relationship. While in Paris, Montague published a collection of short stories, Death of a Chieftain (1964) after which the musical group the Irish Chieftains are named; and also published three volumes of poetry: Poisoned Lands (1961), A Chosen Light (1967), and Tides (1970). At this time, the Anti-British Irish civil rights movement began to grow and to influence Montague's poetry. His poems of the later 1960s and 1970s, all show the influence of movement. In 1972, he returned to Ireland to teach at University College, Cork, and to be closer to the scene of these activities and became a major literary influence among younger Irish writers. His long poem, The Great Cloak, was published by Dolmen Press, Dublin in 1978).

In Cork, with his second wife, Evelyn Robson, Montague continued to write poetry and began to earn more public recognition, including a number of prestigious Irish awards. In 1995, Montague separated from Evelyn and began a relationship with an American student, Elizabeth Wassell, who later wrote The Honey Plain (1997). In 1998, Montague became the first Irish professor of poetry, shared between The Queen's University, Belfast; Trinity College, Dublin; and University College, Dublin. He held this position for three years. Montague died in Nice, France, on 11 December 2016, following colon surgery. The president of Ireland, and many literary figures, attended his funeral service in Dublin. He was survived by his widow, Elisabeth Wassell, and two daughters, Oonagh and Sibyl. Altogether, he published 30 books of poetry and other works.


"John Montague Collection, 1956-1984 (#PCMS-0022)". (2017) 109 boxes (27.25 linear feet) Poetry Collection. State University of New York at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY.

"John Montague Papers 1962-1968 (#1-8-1441)". (2017) Special Collections, Morris Library, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL.

"John Montague Fonds, 1961-1962 (SC134)". (2017) Special Collections, Libraries, University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

"John Montague Remembered at Funeral as Poet of 'Wonder'. [Obituary] by Mark Hilliard, Irish Times (14 December 2016).

"John Montague (Poet)". [Biographical Sketch] (2016) Wikipedia.

Author: Jonathan Dembo, with the assistance of John Leche, 8/2/2016, 3/1/2017, 3/24/2017.

Stuart Wright collected and compiled the John Montague Papers. He was born, Stuart Thurman Wright, on 30 March 1948, in Roxboro, North Carolina. He was the son of Frances Critcher Wright (1919-2010) and Wallace Lyndon Wright (1921-1965). An avid reader as a boy, Wright developed a strong interest in the American Civil War and with his father toured many of the war's battlefields searching for artifacts and studying the history of the era. At the age of 12, he won a statewide "Johnny Reb" essay contest and by the age of 15 had visited every major battlefield of the Civil War. Wright attended Roxboro High School, from which he graduated in 1966. It was during these years that he developed an interest in collecting historical books and manuscripts and began relationships with a number of local collectors and dealers.

In the fall of 1966, Wright enrolled at Wake Forest University as a pre-med, history, German and music student. Wright earned a B.A. in German and music in 1970. As a graduate student at Wake Forest University, Wright focused his studies on Southern history and literature, his ambition being to build an authoritative Southern Studies collection for the university. He received a master's degree in Southern Studies in 1973 and a second master's degree in U.S. History in 1980. Additionally Wright holds a professional degree from England in a medically related field. It was while studying there that he became interested in Thomas Wolfe, the noted North Carolina native and novelist.

Following his graduation from Wake Forest, Wright began to develop his collections more systematically, acquiring many first editions of Southern writers. In 1976 he began teaching at Reynolda House, a Wake Forest University affiliate dedicated to the arts and arts education. Wright taught classes in American music as well as human anatomy for art students. In 1978 Wright became Lecturer in Education at Wake Forest University. During his 10 years teaching at Wake Forest University, Wright authored numerous works of Civil War and North Carolina history, and dozens of articles, bibliographies, essays and reviews on Southern literature and the writers whose papers he collected. In addition, he developed a strong interest in the writings of the English poet Donald Davie and the Minnesota-born poet Richard Eberhart, whose works he also collected.

At the same time, Wright also began a career as a publisher by starting Palaemon Press in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. By 1984, Palaemon Press had produced 316 titles, consisting mainly of broadsides and limited editions, of the poetry and essays of such Southern writers as A. R. Ammons, Fred Chappell, James Dickey, William Goyen, George Garrett, and Eudora Welty. He also built comprehensive collections and compiled book-length descriptive bibliographies of A.R. Ammons, Andrew Lytle, Reynolds Price, James Dickey, William Goyen, Walker Percy, Randall Jarrell, Peter Taylor, George Garrett, Richard Eberhart, and Donald Davie. As well as serving as editor of the contemporary literature section of the Bulletin of Bibliography throughout the 1980s, Wright also contributed pioneering checklists of the writings of Southern poets Henry Taylor, Charles Wright, and Robert Morgan. For Meckler Publishing he served as series editor for a number of book-length bibliographies and checklists. In recognition of these accomplishments, when he was just 32, Wright was elected to membership in New York's prestigious Grolier Club.

All of these works are represented in the Stuart Wright Collection. In his dealings with these various authors Wright made consistent efforts to acquire personal papers, letters and documents, photographs, manuscripts, drafts, proofs, and published materials to supplement his continuing activities as a purchaser of their works. In this way, Wright acquired perhaps a majority of his overall collection. Over the years a number of biographers used Wright's collection to aid their research. For example, James A. Grimshaw, Jr. used the collection extensively for his Robert Penn Warren: A Descriptive Bibliography, 1922-1979 published by the University Press of Virginia, in 1981 and Craig S. Abbott did so as well for John Crowe Ransom: A Descriptive Bibliography, published by Whitston Publishing Company, Inc. in 1999. Joseph Blotner also used the Wright collection in researching Robert Penn Warren: A Biography, published by Random House in 1997.

Nevertheless, from the mid- to late 1980s, Wright began to look for a permanent home for his collection, which he felt had grown too large and yet had been too little used. Unable to find a repository willing to accept the entire collection under suitable conditions, he sold a number of individual author collections to Vanderbilt University, Duke University, the University of Texas at Austin, and Emory University. It was not until 2010 that he reached agreement to house the remaining, and largest part of his collection at East Carolina University. The Stuart Wright Collection in the East Carolina Manuscript Collection of J.Y. Joyner Library includes 106 sub-collections of the papers of Southern American writers, illustrators, composers, and publishers. The related Stuart Wright Book Collection holds several thousand volumes by or about many of the same writers. Many of these volumes contain annotations, inscriptions, and insertions that reveal much about the authors in the collection and their relationships with one another. In 1998 Wright moved to England, and since 2001 he has resided in the medieval market town of Ludlow, in Shropshire. Author: Jonathan Dembo, 11/2/2016

Scope and arrangement

Stuart Wright Collection: John Montague Papers (#1169-095) are arranged in original order in a single series.

Series 1: Cary Addition #1 to the Stuart Wright Collection, consist of the photocopy typescript of a poem entitled The Great Cloak; transferred from the Stuart Wright Book Collection, 12/1/2014. Source: Ludlow Addition Box #171.039. Series 1 is held in Box 1.a.

Administrative information
Custodial History

20 July 2012, (Ludlow Addition #2), 0.25 cubic feet; 1 archival box; 1 item; 63 p. Papers (1978) documenting the life and literary career of the Brooklyn, New York-born, Irish-raised poet, John Montague (1929-), consisting of the typescript of a poem entitled The Great Cloak; transferred from the Stuart Wright Book Collection, 12/1/2014. Source: Ludlow Addition Box #171.039. Vendor: Stuart Wright

Source of acquisition

Purchased from Stuart Wright, 7/20/2012

Processing information

Processing, Preliminary inventory & Container List, by Jonathan Dembo with the assistance of Jay Colin Menees, 2/25/2016, 3/31/2016, 9/2/2016; Final inventory by Jonathan Dembo, 9/2/2016, 3/1/2017; Finding aid by Jonathan Dembo, 9/30/2016; Biographical Sketch, by Jonathan Dembo with the assistance of John Leche, 8/1/2016, 3/1/2017; Encoding revised by Jonathan Dembo, 3/1/2017, 3/24/2017.

Copyright notice

Literary rights to specific documents are retained by the authors or their descendants in accordance with U.S. copyright law.

Language of material


Related material

John Montague Collection, 1956-1984 (2017) (#PCMS-0022) 109 boxes (27.25 linear feet)Poetry Collection, State University of New York at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY USA

John Montague Papers 1962-1968 (2017) (#1-8-1441) Special Collections, Morris Library, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL USA

John Montague Fonds, 1961-1962 (2017) (SC134) Special Collections, Libraries, University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

Key terms
Personal Names
Montague, John
Poets, Irish--20th century

Container list
Box 1 Folder a Great Cloak, The [Poems] by John Montague (Dublin, Ireland : Dolmen Press, ca. 1978) Photocopy typescript. 1 item. 63 p. ; Note : Irish poetry ; transferred from the Stuart Wright Book Collection, 1 Dec. 2014 ; Fragile, water damage, rust damage ; needs conservation ; Source : Ludlow Addition #171.039