Papers of J. V. Cunningham (1942-1983) documenting the life and literary career of the noted Cumberland, Maryland-born American poet, literary critic and educator at various colleges including Brandeis University, 1953-1980; consisting of an oversized printed broadside entitled J. V. Cunningham: Two Poems (1983), including two poems printed on separate sheets inserted into slits in a third sheet; also including loose manuscript items transferred from works in the Stuart Wright Book Collection, including: Bibliography of the Published Works of J. V. Cunningham (1964), The Helmsman (1942), and Woe or Wonder (1951) and other items by J. V. Cunningham.
His mother's insistence on finding better schools for him led the family to relocate to Denver, Colorado, which Cunningham subsequently always regarded as his hometown. Cunningham graduated at age fifteen from the Greek and Latin program at Jesuit-taught Regis High School, in Denver, in 1927, but his father's early death and the ensuing financial difficulties prevented him from continuing his education. He worked as a messenger boy in the Denver Stock Exchange until the Crash of 1929; he then drifted from job to job across the southwestern states, often homeless and hungry.
After several years and several unsuccessful attempts at getting himself to college, Cunningham became the protégé of poet and critic Yvor Winters (1900-1968), who invited him to study at Stanford University. Cunningham eventually received his A. B. (1934) and a Ph. D. from Stanford (1945). Apart from a short stint teaching mathematics to Air Force pilots during World War II, Cunningham spent the rest of his career on university faculties. He taught English at Stanford, the University of Hawaii, Harvard University, the University of Virginia, and Washington University in St. Louis. He was Assistant Professor of English at the University of Chicago from 1946 until 1952 and a Professor at Brandeis University from 1953 until his 1980 retirement.
Cunningham was not a prolific poet. He wrote fewer than 200 poems during his entire life. However, he did publish several important collection of his poetry. He published his first volume, The Helmsman, in 1942, while he was still a student at Stanford. Also among these volumes are The Poems of J. V. Cunningham (Swallow Press / Ohio University Press, 1997), Let Thy Words Be Few (1986), Some Salt: Poems and Epigrams (1967), The Exclusions of a Rhyme (1960), Trivial, Vulgar, and Exalted: Epigrams (1957). Cunningham's poems were inspired by the poets of classical antiquity, especially the epigrammatic form, of which he was a modern master.
Cunningham was also a critic, editor, and general man of letters. He received fellowships from The Academy of American Poets and The Guggenheim Foundation, as well as grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and The National Institute of Arts and Letters. In spite of this recognition, Cunningham's poetry was not very popular and received little public attention during his lifetime.
Cunningham married three times. His first wife was the poet Barbara Gibbs (1937). They divorced in 1945, after having one child. Cunningham married and divorced again before he married Jessie MacGregor Campbell in 1950. When he joined the Brandeis faculty, he and his wife moved to nearby Sudbury, Massachusetts, where she taught English at Clark University. They remained in the vicinity for the rest of his life. Cunningham retired from teaching in 1980 and died in Waltham, Massachusetts on 30 March 1985.
Author: Jonathan Dembo, with the assistance of Dale Wetterhahn, 4/5/2016, 2/28/2017, 3/24/2017.
"Guide to the J. V. Cunningham Papers, 1931-1947". 0.5 lin. ft. Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library, Chicago, IL. https://www.lib.uchicago.edu/e/scrc/findingaids/view.php?eadid=ICU.SPCL.CUNNINGHAM#idp78055504
"J. V. Cunningham". [Biographical Sketch] (2017) Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/J-V-Cunningham
"J. V. Cunningham". [Biographical Sketch] (2017) Poets.Org. https://poets.org/poetsorg/poet/j-v-cunningham
"J. V. Cunningham". [Biographical Sketch] (2017) Poets and Poetry in America. https://www.enotes.com/topics/j-v-cunningham
"America's Best Forgotten Poet: The Poems of J. V. Cunningham", by Joseph Bottum, The Weekly Standard, (16 February 1998) http://www.weeklystandard.com/article/9994
"J. V. Cunningham". [Biographical Sketch] (2016) Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._V._Cunningham
"An Interview with J. V. Cunningham", by Timothy Steele, The Iowa Review, Vol. 15, no. 3 (Fall 1985) http://ir.uiowa.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3247&context=iowareview
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
Stuart Wright Collection: J. V. Cunningham Papers (#1169-093) are arranged in original order in 2 series.
Purchased from Stuart Wright, 10/27/2011, 7/20/2012
Processing, Preliminary inventory & Container List, by Jonathan Dembo, with the assistance of Nathaniel King & Jay Colin Menees, 2/25/2016, 3/31/2016, 2/28/2017; Final inventory by Jonathan Dembo, 2/28/2017; Finding aid by Jonathan Dembo, 9/30/2016; Biographical Sketch, by Jonathan Dembo with the assistance of Dale Wetterhahn, 4/19/2016, 2/28/2017; Encoding revised by Jonathan Dembo, 2/28/2017, 3/24/2017.
Literary rights to specific documents are retained by the authors or their descendants in accordance with U.S. copyright law.