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Collection Number: 04517

Collection Title: A. R. Ammons Papers1944-1987

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held in the Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in our reading room, and not digitally available through the World Wide Web. See the Duplication Policy section for more information.

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Size 0.5 feet of linear shelf space (approximately 310 items)
Abstract North Carolina poet A. R. Ammons (1926- ), who, since 1961, has been on the English faculty of Cornell University. The collection contains letters from Ammons to his sister, Vida Ammons Cox; letters from Ammons to poet William Harmon of the English Department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; writings by Ammons, including poems and a World War II journal; photographs; and other items relating to Ammons. The Cox letters chiefly relate to family affairs and to Ammons's life while a student at the University of California at Berkeley and teacher in the Hatteras (N.C.) public school system; the Harmon letters chiefly deal with literary matters and with Ammons's college teaching career. There are also other Ammons materials.
Creator Ammons, A. R., 1926- .
Curatorial Unit Southern Historical Collection
Language English.
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Restrictions to Access
No restrictions. Open for research.
Copyright Notice
Copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers,or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.
Preferred Citation
[Identification of item], in the A. R. Ammons Papers #04517, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Purchased from Vida Ammons Cox of Clarkton, N.C, in April 1988; received from William Harmon of Chapel Hill, N.C., in May 1988, December 1991 (Acc. 91010 and 92004), and December 1992 (Acc. 93014); received from Laurence Avery in February 1992 (Acc. 92029).
Sensitive Materials Statement
Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations, the North Carolina Public Records Act (N.C.G.S. § 132 1 et seq.), and Article 7 of the North Carolina State Personnel Act (Privacy of State Employee Personnel Records, N.C.G.S. § 126-22 et seq.). Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in this collection without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill assumes no responsibility.
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The following terms from Library of Congress Subject Headings suggest topics, persons, geography, etc. interspersed through the entire collection; the terms do not usually represent discrete and easily identifiable portions of the collection--such as folders or items.

Clicking on a subject heading below will take you into the University Library's online catalog.

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Biographical Information

A. R. Ammons was born in Whiteville, North Carolina, in 1926. He served as a sonar operator aboard the U.S.S. Gunason during World War II, traveling widely through the South Pacific. Returning to North Carolina, Ammons attended Wake Forest University, from which he received a B.S. degree in 1949. After a year as principal of Hatteras (North Carolina) Elementary School, Ammons and his wife Phyllis headed west, where Ammons did graduate work in English at the University of California at Berkeley until 1952.

Starting in 1952 and continuing into the early 1960s, Ammons worked for Freidrich & Dimmock, Inc., a New Jersey laboratory glassware manufacturing company. During this time, his poetry gained increasing acceptance. He left his manufacturing career in 1961 for a position on the English faculty at Cornell University. In 1971, he became a full professor, and, in 1973, Goldwin Smith professor of poetry.

Ammons has received many awards, among them the National Book Award for Poetry (1973), the Bollingen Prize in Poetry (1974), and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry (1981). Besides frequent publication in literary journals, Ammons has published many books, received numerous honorary degrees, and been the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Award.

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Scope and Content

The division between papers purchased from Vida Ammons Cox and those received from William Harmon has been preserved. Subcollection 1 is the Vida Ammons Cox material; the William Harmon materials are in Subcollection 2. Both subcollections are composed chiefly of letters from Ammons. There is little overlap in content among the letters housed in the two subcollections, however, because those in Subcollection 1 deal chiefly with family affairs and those in Subcollection 2 with literary matters. Subcollection 3 contains materials relating to Ammons and others.

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Contents list

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Series 1. Materials purchased from Vida Ammons Cox.

Letters from and to A. R. Ammons, chiefly to Vida Ammons Cox; writings of Ammons, including a journal of his naval experiences during World War II and poems; letters to Vida Cox about A. R. Ammons; papers relating to Ammons's poetry readings and speaking engagements; and pictures, chiefly photographs of A. R. Ammons.

expand/collapse Expand/collapse Subseries 1.1. Correspondence of A. R. Ammons.

expand/collapse Expand/collapse Subseries 1.1.1. Letters from A. R. Ammons, 1944-1973 and undated.

About 200 items.

Arrangement: chronological.

Chiefly letters from A. R. Ammons (Archie) to his sister Vida Ammons Cox of Clarkton, North Carolina. Early letters describe Ammons's struggles to establish himself as a poet; later letters document his success.

1944-1946: Letters from Ammons during his tour of duty in the United States Navy. Letters in 1944 are from Camp Peary (Williamsburg, Virginia); those from January 1945 to February 1945 are from the Fleet Sonar School (Key West, Florida); and those from May 1945 to January 1946 are from aboard the U.S.S. Gunason. The letters include vivid descriptions of islands in the South Pacific; Ammons's loneliness aboard ship; and, after the lifting of censorship regulations late in 1945, his training and duties as a sonar operator. They also contain advice to Vida about men, marriage, and her career in nursing. (See also Series 2 for journal kept aboard the Gunason.)

1949-1964: Letters from September 1949 to April 1950 document Ammons's duties at Hatteras (N.C.) Elementary School. Ammons married Phyllis Plumbo on 26 November 1949, and letters after that date often discuss his adjustment to married life. After a short stay in Ventnor, New Jersey, the Ammonses moved to Berkeley, California. From late 1950 to May 1952, Ammons did graduate work in English at the University of California at Berkeley. Letters from these years contain Ammons's reflections on his academic work and growing confidence in his writing abilities. The Ammonses spent July to mid-February of 1951 back in New Jersey, where Ammons worked for Friedrich & Dimmock, Inc., a laboratory glass manufacturing company owned by his father-in-law.

The Ammonses returned to Berkeley in February 1951, but, by September 1952, they were back in New Jersey with Ammons again working for Friedrich & Dimmock. In 1956, Ammons was promoted to executive vice-president of the glass firm. Ammons's poetry gained increasing acceptance during this period; from the mid-1950s on, he frequently commented on the publication of poems and reviews of his work in various journals. In 1963, Ammons received an offer from Cornell University to join the English faculty, but no further information about the job is given until 1965, when he was already on staff there.

The letter of 27 April 1960 discusses Ammons meeting with William Carlos Williams; letters of 13 and 31 October 1960 relate to Guy Owen; those in August 1961 describe Ammons's experience at the Breadloaf Writers Conference, where Howard Nemerov read some of Ammons's poetry.

1965-1973: Ammons finally returned to Berkeley in the summer of 1965, but in a letter dated 23 July 1965 he complained about not being able to get back into "the art of studying." By this time, he had apparently accepted the teaching position at Cornell. Letters beginning in September 1965 discuss Ammons's work at Cornell and continuing success as a writer. The letter of 27 September 1969 in particular lays out Ammons's reactions to his growing popularity.

Folder 1


Folder 2

January-May 1945

Folder 3

June 1945-1946

Folder 4


Folder 5

January-April 1950

Folder 6

May-December 1950

Folder 7


Folder 8

January-May 1952

Folder 9

June 1952--December 1953

Folder 10


Folder 11


Folder 12


Folder 13


Folder 14


Folder 15


Folder 16


Folder 17


Folder 18


Folder 19


Folder 20


Folder 21


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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Subseries 1.1.2. Letters to A. R. Ammons, 1949-1988.

5 items.

Arrangement: chronological.

Notification of Ammons's employment in the Hatteras (N.C.) Public Schools (1949); notice of a credit to Ammons's account with the Waccamaw Bank & Trust Company of Clarkton, North Carolina (1952); letters from the Yale Review and Poetry, both expressing interest in Ammons's work (1988); and a note (1988) from Ken [Frazolle?] that includes musical notation for a passage from Worldly Hopes (1985).

Folder 22

Letters to A. R. Ammons

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Subseries 1.2. Log of the U.S.S. Gunason, 1945-1946.

1 item.

Photocopy of typed transcription of journal kept by Ammons aboard the U.S.S. Gunason from March 1945 to May 1946(51 pages). (See also letters from this period in Subseries 1.1.)

Folder 23

Log of the U.S.S. Gunason

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Subseries 1.3. Poems.

11 items.

See also poems attached as enclosures in the following letters:

Subcollection 1, Subseries 1.1: 10 January 1960: "Canto 7"; "Canto 10"; 31 October 1960: "Moon of harvest--moon of reaping"; 15 May 1967: "The Little Him"; 16 April 1969: "Periphery"; "Clarity"; "Snow Log"; "Classic"; "Upland".

Subcollection 2, Series 1: 15 December 1975: "Near dusk, approaching"; 27 October 1986: "The High Desiring"; undated: "Zero and Then Some"; "The Spiral Rag"; "The Fairly High Assimilation Rag"

Folder 24

"Canto 38" (mimeographed copy of typescript)

"A Complete Life" (typescript with autograph revisions)

"The Damned" (typescript with autograph revisions)

"The Incomplete Life" (typescript with autograph revisions)

"Rosalie" (galley)

"Stirring Early" (typescript)

"Telltales/The Elite Meet" (typescript with autograph revisions)

"The Way Things Go Wrong" (typescript)

"The Way Things Go Wrong," 2nd and 3rd drafts (typescript with autograph revisions)

"What Was That Again" (typescript with autograph revisions)

"Withywinds" (typescript with autograph revisions)

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Subseries 1.4. Letters to Vida Ammons Cox about A. R. Ammons, 1971-1986.

4 items.

Arrangement: chronological.

Letters chiefly relating to honors bestowed upon A. R. Ammons.

Folder 25

Letters to Vida Ammons Cox about A. R. Ammons

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Subseries 1.5. Other Papers, 1949-1986 and undated.

15 items.

Clippings about Ammons and posters or other items relating to Ammons's poetry readings and speaking engagements.

Folder 26

Other Papers

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Subseries 1.6. Pictures

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Series 2. Materials received from William Harmon.

Letters from Ammons to William Harmon at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and letters to Harmon about Ammons.

expand/collapse Expand/collapse Subseries 2.1. Letters from A. R. Ammons to William Harmon, 1972-1992 and undated.

About 60 items.

Arrangement: chronological.

Letters contain much information on the progress of Ammons's writing career. There are many musings on the nature of poetry and some discussion of the technical aspects of writing. Most letters are fairly chatty in style.

Folder 27


Folder 28


Folder 29


Folder 30


Folder 31

Undated, including many poems

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Subseries 2.2. Letters to William Harmon about A. R. Ammons, 1976-1986.

6 items.

Arrangement: chronological.

Letters and other materials relating to Ammons and to Harmon's lectures on and reviews of Ammons's work.

Folder 32

Letters to William Harmon about A. R. Ammons

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Series 3. Other Materials, 1989.

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