QRL archives a treasure

A rich collection of literature spanning nearly 60 years -- as well as captivating correspondence from its authors -- is now available to scholars at the Princeton University Library.


"Since it commenced publication in 1943 with the goal of publishing 'good literature,' the Quarterly Review of Literature has been one of the finest and most influential 'little magazines' in the United States, winning critical acclaim as an independent voice for poetry, fiction and criticism," said Don Skemer, curator of manuscripts in the library.

For nearly all of its 57 years, the review has been edited and published by Ted (Theodore Russell) and Renée Weiss, first at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, then at Bard College and, for more than 30 years, at Princeton University.

The QRL moved to Princeton in 1968, when Ted Weiss joined the English department. He taught creative writing and Shakespeare before retiring in 1987 as the William and Annie S. Paton Foundation Professor of Ancient and Modern Literature, Emeritus. The University continues to provide space for the publication at 185 Nassau St.

"It was largely in magazines like the QRL that much of the literature now studied as a matter of course in colleges and universities first appeared," critic Hilton Kramer once observed.

Early issues of QRL were filled with the work of Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore, e.e. cummings and many other established poets. However, the magazine soon came to include a broad array of fiction, translations of foreign authors, works by younger American writers and retrospective volumes of poetry and prose.

Literary criticism was included during the magazine's early years. In 1963, the QRL began producing two double-issues each year. The QRL Poetry Series was launched in 1978, combining four to six books of poetry in a full-length, subscription-based annual. Today, the QRL is published as an annual volume that contains five complete books of poetry, each of which is devoted to the work of one poet.

"The extensive authors' correspondence in the QRL files reads like a 'who's who' of modern literature," Skemer said.

"You might care to look at this. Return postage attached," reads a note scrawled on William Carlos Williams' pre-printed medical prescription form. Often accompanying submissions, the poet sent a total of 64 letters, notes and cards to the QRL between 1944 and 1960.

Among regular contributors were Hayden Carruth, Robert Coover, James Dickey, James Farrell, Angel Flores, Jean Garrigue, Randall Jarrell, Denise Levertov, James Merrill, W.S. Merwin, Howard Nemerov, Robert Pinsky, Kenneth Rexroth, W.D. Snodgrass, Wallace Stevens, Richard Wilbur and James Wright.

Among active Princeton authors represented in the archives are Robert Fagles, Edmund L. Keeley, Joyce Carol Oates, James Richardson and Allen Tate.

In the correspondence files, most authors discuss not only the details of publication in the QRL, but other subjects of interest to literary biographers and specialists on modern literature. The archives also include the QRL issues files, containing almost complete files of all the manuscripts submitted for publication since 1943. Some manuscripts have very significant author's corrections, such as three excerpts from Ralph Ellison's posthumously published novel "Juneteenth" while still a work-in-progress.

Ted Weiss views the QRL as his way of "paying back for the privileges and pleasures" of a lifetime as a poet. Coming to the Princeton University Library along with the QRL archives are Weiss' own papers, which include manuscripts, corrected proofs and correspondence related to his many published volumes of poetry.

The QRL Archives and Weiss Papers are available for study in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at the Princeton University Library. For more information, contact Skemer at 258-3184 or <dcskemer@princeton.edu>.

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