A. R. Ammons was born Archie Randolph Ammons on 18 February 1926, near Whiteville, North Carolina, he was the youngest of a tobacco farmer's three surviving children. He attended local public schools and earned a bachelor's degree in biology from Wake Forest College in North Carolina. Ammons began writing poetry while serving onboard a destroyer escort in the South Pacific during World War II. After the war, he attended graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley, where he studied English. For a year, he was principal of a tiny elementary school on Hatteras Island, N.C. He also worked as a real estate salesman and as an editor. For the better part of a decade, he was a sales executive at Friedrich & Dimmock Inc., his father-in-law's biological glass company on the southern New Jersey shore. He spent several periods as a resident of the South Jersey communities of Millville, Northfield, and Ocean City.1
Ammons's success as a poet came slowly. In 1955 he published his first book of poetry, Ommateum, at his own expense, but few readers took notice.2 In 1964, however, Ammons joined the English faculty at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. Norton published his second collection, Collected Poems, 1951-1971, in 1972 and Ammons soon went from total obscurity to wide acclaim. In 1973, Cornell named him the Goldwin Smith Professor of Poetry at Cornell and he won the National Book Award. The award citation reads, in part, "In the enormous range of his work, from the briefest confrontations with the visual to long powerful visionary poems, he has extended into our present and our future the great American tradition of which Emerson and Whitman were founders."3
More honors followed. Ammons earned the National Book Award a second time, in 1993, for Garbage. He received virtually every other major prize for poetry offered in the United States. These included the Frost Medal for distinguished lifetime service to American Poetry, given in 1994 by the Poetry Society of America; Yale University's prestigious Bollingen Prize for Sphere: The Form of a Motion; the National Book Critics Circle Award for A Coast of Trees: Poems; the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize; and a Lannan Literary Award for Poetry. Ammons also received a Guggenheim Fellowship and, in 1981, received one of the first MacArthur Foundation "genius award" fellowships. In 1998, he received the Tanning Prize, a $100,000 award for "outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry." In 1990, the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters inducted him as a member.4 As Yale literary critic Harold Bloom has said, "No contemporary poet in America is likelier to become a classic than A. R. Ammons."5
Ammons's poetry is hard to classify. His poetic voice was unique. He combined a high poetic ambition with a whimsical sense of fun. A poet of the natural world, he brought to his work a scientific understanding that his contemporaries lacked. Ammons constantly sought to find a unifying principle by which to connect his observations of the world. Bloom called Ammons a transcendentalist and "the most direct Emersonian in American poetry since Frost." According to Bloom, Ammons sought a "radiance" that illuminates equally a "sublime landscape" or the scene of a "natural slaughter".
Following Ammons's death in 2001, many of his friends, associates, and colleagues remembered his impact on their lives. Roald Hoffmann, a 1981 Nobel laureate in chemistry, a poet, and a colleague at Cornell, described Ammons as a "natural philosopher." In 1998, Hoffmann described Ammons's poetic purpose: "His search, gentle yet insistent, is for a philosophy of nature -- a metaphysics always, an epistemology of openness to the connectedness of things and ideas, its inherent logic, an aesthetics rooted in the wonder of it all and reinforced by the purposive harmony of his poems, an ethics, even an eschatology of the very real world."
Robert Morgan, a novelist, poet, and fellow North Carolinian in the Cornell Department of English, praised Ammons for his willingness "to take the unpopular point of view in a discussion, to be advocate for the truly disadvantaged, the outsider. He was always able to surprise us. He was a presence, a leader."8 Morgan continued: "Though he was famous for the fine abstraction of his poetry, he was also capable of vivid and significant detail. The high abstraction of his thought was wedded to an immediate idiom, a living voice. He was one of the most distinctive voices in American poetry. There is no one like him."9 Phyllis Janowitz, also on the Cornell English faculty, said Ammons was "the most generous man and friend anyone could know or have; he made everyone feel like the only one."10
Ammons was also known as a conversationalist. Each week, he met for informal discussions in the Temple of Zeus coffee shop at Cornell's Goldwin Smith Hall. Jonathan Culler, a former Department of English chair, recalled Ammons as a "gentleman and a colleague interested in the work of others, even literary theorists whose concerns must have seemed remote from his own. He spent a lot of time around the department and was always available for a chat in the mailroom or over coffee in the Temple of Zeus."11
Ammons died on 25 February 2001. He is survived by his wife, Phyllis Ammons, of Ithaca; his sister, Vida Cox, of Clarkton, N.C.; and son John Ammons, daughter-in-law Wendy Moscow, and two grandchildren, Matthew and Jasmine Ammons, all of California.12-13
1 "Biography of A. R. Ammons," PoemHunter.Com,
Franklin Crawford, "A. R. Ammons is Remembered as a Generous and Profound Presence," Cornell Chronicle, March 1, 2001,
"A. R. Ammons," Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._R._Ammons#Life (accessed August 30, 2008)
2 David Lehmann, "Archie: A Profile of A. R. Ammons," Poets.org,
3 Lehmann, "Archie: A Profile of A. R. Ammons"; "Biography of A. R. Ammons"; Crawford, "A. R. Ammons is Remembered" (quotation).
4 Crawford, "A. R. Ammons is Remembered."
6 "Biography of A. R. Ammons"; Lehmann, "Archie: A Profile of A. R. Ammons" (quotations).
7 Crawford, "A. R. Ammons is Remembered."
13 Biography of A. R. (Archie Randolph) Ammons, In: Jonathan Dembo, ed., A. R. Ammons's Poetry and Art: A Documentary Exhibit Catalog. (Greenville, NC: East Carolina University, 2008), pp. 8-9.
Author: Jonathan Dembo, 6/24/2010
Stuart Wright collected and compiled the A. R. Ammons Papers. Wright 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 also 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