October 05, 2021

Renowned Portland Poet Gifts Personal Archive to Watzek

Kim Stafford, founding director of Lewis & Clark’s Northwest Writing Institute and former Oregon poet laureate, has gifted his personal archive to Watzek Library Special Collections and Archives. It will be available to the public in 2022.

by Scout Brobst BA ’20

Kim Stafford posing outside, wearing a brimmed hat, green vest, and long sleeved blue shirt.

Kim Stafford’s life and work have been intertwined with the history of Lewis & Clark for decades. As a child, he grew up down the street from the college, taking in the rhythms of the school where his father, noted poet William Stafford, taught. Later, in 1986, Kim founded the Northwest Writing Institute at Lewis & Clark, an incubator of writing and creative thought in Portland. Given his close relationship with the college—including a teaching career that has spanned more than 40 years—it seems particularly appropriate that he chose to gift his personal archive to Lewis & Clark.

Upon signing the official gift agreement with the college in August, Stafford marked the occasion with a poem, titled “Archive”:

Is it a zoo—ten thousand poems Image courtesy of Kim Stafford
imprisoned for examination?
Is it a wilderness—fifty years
of letters flown from their creators?
Is it a kitchen—raw flavors
for generations of cooks to taste?
Is it a laboratory—elements of thought
for compounding and distillation?
Is it a library—sleeping books
to be wakened by the ready?
Is it a garden—word seeds
to grow a better world?
All my pages in these boxes
I put in trust for thee.

Stafford, a beloved teacher, is an acclaimed writer of poetry and prose. He has penned more than a dozen books of poetry, most recently Singer Come from Afar (Red Hen Press, 2021), a meditation on conflict, peace, and essential questions raised by the pandemic. From 2018 to 2020, Stafford served as Oregon’s ninth poet laureate, a role that Governor Kate Brown describes as an “ambassador of poetry across the state.” His father held the title from 1975 to 1990.

The archive, which is currently being processed by Special Collections and a number of student workers, forms a constellation of Stafford’s career and various creative endeavors over 50 years. In addition to poems, essays, and stories, there are songs, films, manifestos, blessings, approaches to teaching, audio recitations, and thousands of handwritten letters to and from fellow creators.

In 2008, the Stafford family gifted the college the William Stafford Archives, a collection of his private papers, publications, photographs, recordings and teaching materials. Together with Kim Stafford’s materials, the archives show a legacy of writing at Lewis & Clark.

“Bill’s archive and Kim’s archive speak to each other,” Crummé says, citing their relevance, in particular, to students of English, philosophy, and creative writing. “It’s interesting to see where father and son come together and inspire one another and also where they diverge.”

For Stafford, there is a personal resonance to sharing his “fifty years of scribbling” with the college. “I’ve been a part of Lewis & Clark since 1949, the year I was born. My family and I lived on S.W. Palatine Hill Road while our dad taught at the college. So isn’t it destiny that my father’s writings and mine should live here together?” he says. “A library is a home for the past, but I like to think an archive is a home for the future—a place where ideas, both formed and half-formed, might seed new thoughts and new worlds.”

It is Stafford’s hope that the archive will encourage and inspire students to examine their own life stories with a sharper eye. As he sees it, the archive is not about himself but “about how something in it may kindle a response in you.”

“I’m honored that the college will guard my work and make it available to the campus and the community,” says Stafford. “And I’m grateful to the library and Special Collections staff that they will both protect, and offer forth, the gifts that have come through me in this life.”

The Kim Stafford Archive is projected to be available for public viewing in spring 2022. The Lewis & Clark community can access current collections virtually through Archives West and at Watzek Library in person, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., by request.

Northwest Writing Institute Special Collections and Archives