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Donald Justice papers

Identifier: MSS 0191

Scope and Contents

The Donald Justice Papers span the dates 1936 to 1998, with the bulk of the collection dating between 1952 and 1996. Correspondence and drafts of poetry comprise the majority of the ten linear feet of manuscripts; however, drafts of other genre, such as reviews, stories, lectures, plays, and librettos complement the poetry. The papers are completed by photographs, clippings, programs, books, posters, transcripts, scrapbooks, calendars, broadsides, and financial papers.

Arranged in seven series, the collection clearly focuses on Donald Justice's work as a poet. Series I. Writing by Donald Justice consists of six subseries: poetry, opera and music, novels, plays, stories, and prose.

Over eighty percent of this series is associated with Justice's poetry, including some poems which remain unpublished. Beginning in 1943 with several poems sent to poet George Marion O'Donnell for critique, and continuing through his most recent collection of poems, New and Selected Poems (1995), the poetry subseries documents Justice's meticulous crafting of his poems. His writing is characterized by numerous revisions or the complete rewrites of his poems, experimention with diverse poetical forms, as well as the occasional use of a pseuodnym (F8). Even after poems are published they are still subject to Justice's revisions. This is illustrated by his revisions of previously published poems for his volumes of selected work or by the broadside of "Mule team and poster" (F158) which bears his autograph revisions.

Arranged chronologically, manuscripts are available for most of Justice's collections of poetry, as well as for small press publications, broadsides, and his doctoral dissertation. The Series List (pages 11-12) introduces the many units in the poetry subseries. Some units consist of a single folder, for example "Early Poems" or "Yaddo Lyric," but most are multi-folder groups related to published collections of Justice poems, such as Night Light or The Sunset Maker. The folders reflect Donald Justice's assembling of related material and in most cases his labeling of those folders.

In addition to the autograph worksheets and typescript drafts of poems present in the poetry subseries, sections related to published books may also include galley proofs, correspondence with the publisher, dust jackets, book reviews, contracts, and promotional material. Copies of books were removed and cataloged for Special Collections. Appendix A lists removed items and call numbers.

Though less extensive, the papers encompass other genres authored by Justice, particularly operas, plays, stories, and prose, plus several ideas for novels. Justice's three librettos, The Young God, The Iron Hand, and The Death of Lincoln, demonstrate his musical aptitude, first developed while studying with American composer Carl Ruggles from 1942 to 1945. Two letters from Ruggles (F377) confirm his critique and encouragement of Justice's musical composition.

Justice has written a number of short stories, from the 1950 award-winning "The Lady" to "Death, Night, Etc.," published by Yale Review in 1998. He has also written plays, several of which have been produced, such as "A Dream of Don Juan," "Narcissus at Home," and "Chance for Rain." Drafts of two of his plays, "The Whole World Knows" and "The Hitch-Hikers," are based on short stories written by Eudora Welty. A letter from Welty regarding the production of the plays accompanies one of the drafts.

The final subseries is prose and includes Justice's master's thesis, "The Fugitive-Agrarian "Myth"," reviews of the work of other poets, essays on poetry or poets, autobiographical sketches, editorial work on The Collected Poems of Weldon Kees, and an afterword to Robinson's The Torrent and the Night Before. Most of his editorial work has reflected his interest in and promotion of the work of other poets, such as Weldon Kees, Henri Coulette, and Raeburn Miller.

Donald Justice is an artist as well as a writer. Series II. Artwork by Donald Justice, is a limited introduction to his painting and linocut through a group of slides. Illustrations from his linocuts appear in his book of poems, Banjo Dog and in Richard Frost's book, Jazz For Kirby.

Documentation for some of Justice's public presentations is available in Series III. Lectures and readings presented by Justice. Drafts of lectures delivered at Breadloaf and other gatherings, as well as drafts or promotional material related to poetry readings provide a sampling of his public presentations.

Series IV. Personal and professional correspondence is divided between Justice's correspondence with friends and literary acquaintances and his business correspondence. The business correspondence is primarily with publishers, such as Atheneum, Wesleyan University Press, or literary journals. This correspondence regards publications schedules, royalties, permissions for collected works, and other publication issues. Letters from the Academy of American Poets, various libraries seeking manuscript donations, and universities regarding teaching assignments or leaves of absences, enlarge the scope of business correspondence and touch on aspects of Justice's teaching career, reputation, and professional life.

The personal and literary correspondence is a rich record of Justice's relationships with friends, many of whom are also accomplished poets and academics, and with other literary notables. The most extensive groups of letters written to Justice, both in number of letters and period of time, are from poets Mark Strand, Charles Wright, and Robert Mezey. Over 350 letters from these three friends communicate not only their thoughts on his poetry, but discuss mutual friends, teaching, travels, and a wide arrange of personal issues. They confer on current writing projects, particularly poems, sometimes enclosing copies for Justice's comments. A substantial number of letters from Richard Stern, Marvin Bell, Philip Booth, Donald Hall, Dana Gioia, and Philip Levine continue these topics.

These letters and others in the collection suggest the senders' high regard for Justice as a poet and as a valued friend, imply that Justice appreciates the input of other poets in refining his poems, and convey something of Justice's playful side, mentioning his fascination with gambling, his enjoyment of sports, and his intensely competitive spirit.

A few of the many literary notables among the remaining personal and literarycorrespondents are American composer Carl Ruggles; poets John Berryman, Robert Bly, James Dickey, Stephen Spender, and Yvor Winter; and novelist John Irving.

Letters written by Donald Justice to others, including original letters to his wife and son, over 100 letters to poet Henri Coulette, a letter to his mother, and drafts of letters to friends and associates, constitute a significant segment of the personal and literary correspondence. The draft letters, found in notebooks or on loose-leaf pages, were written during the 1990s, as was the "correspondence diary," which lists each letter Justice sent between 1990 and 1993. Folder descriptions list to whom the drafts were written and a brief summary of the letter's purpose. Justice's letters reflect his family life, his academic life, particularly as part of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and his willingness to assist students through letters of reference.

It should be noted that Series I also includes some correspondence, either from publishers about a particular work in production or from individuals congratulating Justice on recent publications. Folder descriptions indicate when correspondence is present.

Appendix B provides a list of correspondence from literary notables. The alphabetical list includes the following information: name of the sender, dates of letters, types of letters, number of pages, folder location, and notes about enclosures.

Letters of notification are the primary contents in Series V. Awards and honors accorded to Justice. However, manuscripts displayed in an American Academy of Art and Letters/National Institute of Arts and Letters exhibition upon Justice's membership in 1992 and a folder photographs taken at Academy dinners and committee meetings round out this series.

Series VI. Interviews, books, articles, and review related to Donald Justice and his work, provides commentary by others on the life and poetry of Justice. Particularly helpful are Justice's interview with Dana Gioia and statements by Witter Bynner and Irving Feldman.

The final series of the collection, Series VII. Personal Papers, consists of a small assortment of college transcripts, photographs, university identification cards, pocket calendars, and financial papers. Over thirty different images of Donald Justice are represented among the photographs. The pocket calendars, for the years 1966, 1967, and 1970, are excellent sources of information about Justice's academic career during those years, listing appointments, meetings, and notes. References to his academic career are also found throughout the correspondence.

These papers record the "quiet but marked influence" (Certain Solitudes, p. xvii) of Donald Justice as a poet and as a teacher, inviting the researcher to explore the life and work of this "poet's poet."

A few of Donald Justice's poetry manuscripts have been donated to the following libraries: The University of Buffalo, Wesleyan University, The University of Florida, and The Pierpont Morgan Library.


  • Creation: 1936-1998
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1952-1996


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research

Conditions Governing Use

Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S. Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections, University of Delaware Library,

Biographical / Historical

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Donald Justice was born August 12, 1925, in Miami, Florida, to Vascoe and Mary Ethel (Cook) Justice. He was educated at the University of Miami (B.A., 1945), the University of North Carolina (M.A., 1947), Stanford University (1947-1948), and the State University of Iowa (Ph.D., 1954). While at Iowa, Justice studied with Robert Lowell, Karl Sharpiro, Paul Engle, and John Berryman in the Iowa Poetry Workshop.

His distinguished teaching career has included positions at the University of Miami (1949-1951), University of Missouri (1955-1956), Hamline University (1956-1957), State University of Iowa (now the University of Iowa, 1957-1966, 1971-1982, 1992), Reed College (1962), Syracuse University (1966-1970), University of California - Irvine (1970-1971), University of Florida (1982-1992), Princeton University (1976), and the University of Virginia (1980). He retired from the University of Florida in 1992. As a teacher of poetry he influenced numerous young poets, including Charles Wright, Mark Strand, and Edgar Bowers.

A member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters since 1992, Donald Justice has received numerous awards and honors. Notable among these are the Lamont Poetry Selection, Academy of American Poets (1959) for Summer Anniversaries; a National Book Award nomination (1973) for Departures; the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry (1979) for Selected Poems; the Harriet Monroe Award, University of Chicago (1984); a National Book Critic Circle Award nomination (1988) for The Sunset Maker; the Bolligen Prize for poetry (1991); and the Lannan Literary Award for poetry (1996). Fellowships and grants awarded to Justice include a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship in poetry (1954-1955), Ford Foundation fellowship in theater (1964-1965), National Endowment for the Arts grants (1967, 1973, 1980, and 1989), Guggenheim fellowship in poetry (1976-1977), and American Academy of Poets fellowship (1988). In 1997 Donald Justice was elected a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets.

The earliest publication of Donald Justice's poetry occurred during the 1940s in magazines and journals such as Coraddi, Poetry, Antaeus, and Literary Review. According to the bibliographical checklist in Certain Solitudes, his first published collection of poems was The Old Bachelor and Other Poems (Pandamus Press, 1951). His next collection, The Summer Anniversaries (Wesleyan University Press, 1960), was a Lamont Poetry Selection.

Since Summer Anniversaries, Donald Justice has authored numerous collections of poetry published by private and trade presses. Notable among these publications are Night Light (Wesleyan University Press, 1967); Departures (Atheneum, 1973); the Pulitzer Prize-winning Selected Poems (Atheneum, 1979); The Sunset Maker (Atheneum, 1987); A Donald Justice Reader (Middlebury College Press/University Press of New England, 1992); and New and Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 1995). His poetry is also available in anthologies, magazines, journals, newspapers, and on broadsides.

Justice has edited collections of poetry written by Weldon Kees, Henri Coulette, and Raeburn Miller, as well as collections of contemporary French poetry and Syracuse poetry. He has also written several librettos, of which The Death of Lincoln was published in 1988. Recently his book of essays, Oblivion: On Writers and Writing (Story Line Press, 1998), was published.

Justice's artistry extends beyond writing to painting and linocuts. Illustrations from his linocuts appear in his book of poems, Banjo Dog (Thaumatrope Press, 1995) and in Richard Frost's book, Jazz For Kirby (State Street Press, 1990). The dust jacket for The Sunset Maker was from a painting by Justice. Slides of several of his watercolor painting are available in Series II (F269).

Donald Justice died in Iowa City, Iowa, on August 6, 2004. (The Academy of American Poets online) Chapman, Jeff and John D. Jorgenson (eds.) Contemporary Authors. New Revision Series, Volume 54. Detroit: Gale Research, 1997. pp. 224-229. Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook. 1983. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1983. pp. 266-271. Gioia, Dana and William Logan. Certain Solitudes: on the poetry of Donald Justice. Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 1997. May, Hal and James G. Lesniak (eds.) Contemporary Authors. New Revision Series, Volume 26. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1989. pp. 192-197.


10 linear foot

Language of Materials



Scope and Content Note

The Donald Justice papers span the dates 1936 to 1998, with the bulk of the collection dating between 1952 and 1996. Correspondence and drafts of poetry comprise the majority of the ten linear feet of manuscripts; however, drafts of other genre, such as reviews, stories, lectures, plays, and librettos complement the poetry. The papers are completed by photographs, clippings, programs, books, posters, transcripts, scrapbooks, calendars, broadsides, and financial papers.


The Donald Justice Papers are arranged in seven series. Series I. Writing by Donald Justice comprises sixty percent of the collection and has six subseries: poetry, opera and music, novels, plays, stories, and prose. Each of these subseries is arranged in chronological order with the earliest writing appearing first. Of the six subseries, poetry is largest and most complex. Arranged chronologically, the folders in the poetry subseries reflect original folder titles as given by Justice. The material for particular published works (e.g. both editions of Summer Anniversaries) have been gathered together within the subseries and arranged chronologically by the publication date of the first edition.

Series II. Artwork by Donald Justice consists of one folder of slides, plus a published book which has been removed and cataloged for Special Collections.

Series III. Lectures and reading presented by Justice is arranged in chronological order by the date of the reading or lecture.

Series IV. Personal and professional correspondence has two subseries: first, personal and literary correspondence and, second, business correspondence. The personal and literary correspondence is arranged alphabetically by the sender's name and then chronologically within folders.

The business correspondence is arranged alphabetically by name of the publisher or organization, plus one folder of miscellaneous business correspondence found at the end of the subseries. The items in folders related to a particular publisher or organization are arranged chronologically. Correspondence related to the publications of Justice's work may be found in Series I, with other material related to the publication, or in Series IV, as part of correspondence with a particular publisher. This reflects the collection's original arrangement.

Series V. Awards and honors accorded Justice and Series VI. Interviews, books, articles, and reviews related to Donald Justice and his work are arranged in chronological order.

Series VII. Personal papers includes four small groups of material, including college transcripts and Graduate Record Examination scores, pocket calendars and university identification cards, photographs of Justice and friends, and a small number of personal financial papers. The items are in chronological order within each of the groups.

Oversize items have been removed from folders throughout the collection and filed in the oversize section. Removal sheets have been placed in the original folders to identify removed items. Items are arranged in folder number order. Three oversize galley proofs are housed separately in the Galley Proof Section of the Manuscript Unit. Removal sheets identify these items.

Appendix A provides a list of books written or edited by Donald Justice, as well as books or periodicals to which he contributed. Most of these items were originally a part of the Donald Justice Papers or were donated by Justice. The items were cataloged for the book section of Special Collections and the call number (in parentheses) indicates the location of the book, journal, or broadside.

An alphabetical index of selected correspondence exists. The index offers sender's name, date of letter/letters, type of letter, number of pages, folder number location in the collection, and notes about enclosures. Not all correspondents named in the finding aid appear in the index, and the index includes names of correspondents found throughout the collection. It is unclear if all correspondents appearing in the collection are listed in the index.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchase, 1982. Additions through purchase and gift, 1997, 1998, 1992, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2014.


Boxes 1-9: Shelved in SPEC MSS record center cartons Removals shelved in SPEC MSS oversize boxes (32 inches) F53, F58, F134: Shelved in SPEC MSS oversize galleys

Processing Information

Finding aid encoded by Lauren Connolly, January 2016. Further encoding by Tiffany Saulter, May 2016.

Finding aid for Donald Justice papers
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
2016 January 5
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Delaware Library Special Collections Repository

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