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Pagany archive

Identifier: MSS 0110

Scope and Content Note

The archive of the little magazine Pagany: a native quarterly consists of 5.5 linear feet of material, which spans the dates 1925-1970, with the bulk of the material dating from 1929 to 1933. The collection includes Richard Johns's personal papers and all known surviving material related to the publication of Pagany (some letters and manuscript were destroyed in a 1932 fire or stolen from Johns's car the same year).

The Pagany-related material consists of correspondence, issues of Pagany, manuscripts submitted for publication (poems, literary criticism, stories, essays, and chapters of novels), an index, announcements, cancelled checks, layout drawings, and a copyright certificate.

Comprising over one-half of the collection, the correspondence in Series I is primarily related to Pagany and chronicles the development of the magazine, highlights the business details and the mechanics of running a literary journal, and provides information regarding the works-in-progress by some of the writers submitting material to Pagany. The letters also suggest the comradery and mutual support among some of the writers and particularly among the editors of several little magazines, especially among Johns, Sherry Mangan, and Charles Henri Ford. A small number of the letters concern the 1969 publication of A Return to Pagany and Johns's unsuccessful attempt in 1938-1939 to publish a magazine titled Zone.

Extensive correspondence is present from Erskine Caldwell, Charles Henri Ford, Edward Dahlberg, Georges Hugnet, Robert McAlmon, Norman Macleod, Sherry Mangan, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and Louis Zukofsky.

Approximately 100 letters from this collection were reproduced, in facsimile, in A Return to Pagany, the informal narrative history of the magazine. Series V includes correspondence and publication material related to the publication of A Return to Pagany, which was edited by Stephen Halpert with the assistance of Richard Johns.

The manuscripts in Series II and Series III suggest the types of creative writing submitted for publication in Pagany. Most of the material is fiction, although poetry and critical articles are also present. Of the manuscripts published in Pagany (Series II), some are of particular interest, including the drafts of seven stories by Erskine Caldwell; a chapter from Edward Dahlberg's novel, From Flushing to Calvary; two extensive drafts of stories by Robert McAlmon; a story by H.D.; a critical essay by Ezra Pound; and eight chapters of William Carlos Williams's White Mule (serialized in Pagany). Williams later credited Johns's support and encouragement with motivating him to write White Mule (A Return to Pagany, p. 512).

Present in Series III are over forty manuscripts which were submitted to Johns, but never published in Pagany, including work by Forrest Anderson, Dudley Fitts, Georges Hugnet, Eugene Jolas, Robert McAlmon, William March and Louis Zukofsky.

The announcements, an index, cancelled checks, and related publication material found in Series IV, further document the editorial and business operations of the magazine. Issues of Pagany have been removed from the collection and housed in Special Collections printed collection at Spec AP 2 .P343.

The collection also includes Johns's personal papers. Series VI consists of manuscripts of his writing (stories, essays, poems, a television script, a photo-essay, and an unpublished novel). Series VII includes a copy of his birth certificate, several announcements, and a few clippings which he collected which deal with little magazines, pornography, and literary figures.


  • Creation: 1925-1970
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1929-1933


Language of Materials

Materials entirely in English.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

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,

Historical Note

Pagany: a native quarterly was a quarterly magazine founded and edited by Richard Johns to display and promote the writings of native- born Americans, including expatriates.

Johns was born Richard Johnson on October 29, 1904 in Lynn, Massachusetts. After dropping out of Classical High School in Lynn, Massachusetts, Johns worked at a number of odd jobs in the Boston and New York areas, while he pursued his interest in writing poetry. His first published poem, "Song Against Love," appeared in the first issue of the quarterly Casanova Jr.'s Tales in 1926. Later his writing appeared in a number of small literary magazines, including Greenwich Village Quill, Bozart, and Opportunity: a journal of Negro life.

Eventually Johns concluded that he did not have the creative continuity to write consistently excellent poetry, and although he continued to compose poems, he turned his primary attention to writing criticism and editing. His first published critique was of Frank Harris's My Life and Love (1927), which appeared in the June 1927 issue of theGreenwich Village Quill.

While he was working in New York, Johns studied comparative poetry and literary theory at Columbia and became acquainted with the publishing business through friendships with Stanley Rinehart, Edward Weeks, and George and Julie Rittenhouse. He also acquainted himself with a variety of little magazines, including Contact, transition, The Little Review, Blues, Hound & Horn, and The Dial.

By the Spring of 1929, after having analyzed the existing little magazines, Johns was convinced that he should initiate a quarterly which would display and promote the writings of native- born Americans, including the expatriates. His father, who had always supported his son's writing, provided a loan which financed the first year of publication.

In launching Pagany, Johns sought the support and editorial assistance of William Carlos Williams, inviting him to become a co-editor and contributor to Pagany. He also requested permission to use "Pagany" as the title of his magazine, explaining that the title derived from Williams's novel, A Voyage to Pagany (1928).

A further explanation of the magazine's title was provided in the first issue of the Pagany: "Pagus is a broad term, meaning any sort of collection of peoples from the smallest district or village to the country as an inclusive whole. Taking America as pagus, any one of us as the paganus, the inhabitant, and our conceptions, our agreements and disagreements, our ideas, ideals, whatever we have to articulate is pagany, our expression." (A Return to Pagany, p.50).

Although Williams declined to be co-editor of Pagany, he lent his support to the project by contributing his own work, including chapters of his novel White Mule (which was serialized in Pagany); soliciting writer-friends for contributions; reading and selecting manuscripts for inclusion in Pagany; and advising Johns on editorial aspects of the magazine.

Sherry Mangan, editor of Larus (whose unfilled subscriptions were absorbed by Pagany when Larus ceased), and Blues editor Charles Henri Ford also assisted Johns by encouraging the writers who contributed to their magazines to submit work to Pagany. Consequently, authors such as Kenneth Rexroth, Erskine Caldwell, Norman Macleod, Parker Tyler, Kathleen Tankersley Young, and Forrest Anderson contributed their work to Pagany. Gorham Munson and Ezra Pound also persuaded their colleagues to furnish Pagany with writing. Through Ezra Pound the work of Cocteau, Carnevali, H.D., and others became available.

Johns sought to publish the best writing by Americans regardless of literary camp or political affiliations. The only exceptions to his "Americans only" policy were appearances of a translation of Jean Cocteau's "Laic Mystery" and the work of Georges Hugnet.

From the first issue in the Spring of 1930, until the final issue in February of 1933, Pagany presented a remarkable sampling of the best American writing, especially in the realm of fiction. During those three years, Pagany's tables of contents contained the names of many prominent twentieth-century authors, including William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Mary Butts, Kenneth Rexroth, Dudley Fitts, Hilda Doolittle, John Dos Passos, Charles Henri Ford, Conrad Aiken, e.e. cummings, and Louis Zukofsky.

Johns also included the work of writers who are not often remembered, but who wrote during the early Depression years, including Etta Blum, Peter Neagoe, Syd Salt, Moe Bragin, Tess Slesinger, and numerous others.

Pagany, like other little magazines, contributed to the growth, development, and recognition of many major writers. However, Johns did not hesitate to reject the work of noted writers when he believed the quality of the writing was inferior, including submissions by D.H. Lawrence, William Saroyan, and William Faulkner.

Johns's stubborn devotion to good literature, his search for lively and expressive writing, and his refusal to be bound by commercial pressure, made Pagany a publication of lasting value and one of the most important little magazines published during the early years of the Depression. However, by 1932 Johns had incurred substantial debt in his publishing venture. Only twelve issues of Pagany were published before the lack of funds forced Johns to cease publication in February 1933.

In 1934 Johns married Veronica Parker, with whom he collaborated on a series of mystery novels, the first of which was Hush Gabriel. Johns also began experimenting with photography and composing photo-essays. His photographs appeared in Coronet, U.S. Camera, and various weekly journals; as well as in the "Exhibition of Contemporary American Industrial Art" held at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1940.

By the 1960s Johns had made his home in Cuttingsville, Vermont, where he continued his writing, photography, and work in horticulture, specializing in hybridizing flowers.

In 1969 Johns assisted Stephen A. Halpert in writing A Return to Pagany, which documents the development of Pagany, through selections from Johns's correspondence and from works published in Pagany, complemented by a chronological narrative concerning the history of Pagany.

Richard Johns died on June 17, 1970.

Halpert, Stephen (ed.) with Richard Johns. A Return to Pagany: the history, correspondence, and selections from a little magazine 1929-1932. Boston: Beacon Press, 1969.


5.5 linear foot (20 boxes)


The archive of the little magazine Pagany: a native quarterly consists of 5.5 linear feet of material, which spans the dates 1925–1970, with the bulk of the material dating from 1929 to 1933. The collection includes founder and editor Richard Johns's personal papers and all known surviving material related to the publication of Pagany (some letters and manuscript were destroyed in a 1932 fire or stolen from Johns's car the same year).


Purchase, 1970.

Shelving Summary

  1. Boxes 1-20: Shelved in SPEC MSS manuscript boxes
  2. Removals: Shelved in SPEC MSS oversize boxes (24 inches)

OCLC Number


Originally processed in 1970, reprocessed by Anita A. Wellner, 1993. Encoded by Thomas Pulhamus, February 2010. Encoded by Caitlin Farthing, 2013.

Finding aid for Pagany archive
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
2010 February 9
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Delaware Library Special Collections Repository

181 South College Avenue
Newark DE 19717-5267 USA