April 28, 2008

Poet Laureate’s archive placed with Lewis & Clark

(Portland, Ore.)—The family of poet William Stafford has generously given his papers to Lewis & Clark College, where they will be in the care of Special Collections at the Aubrey R. Watzek Library.

(Portland, Ore.)—The family of poet William Stafford has generously given his papers to Lewis & Clark College, where they will be in the care of Special Collections at the Aubrey R. Watzek Library. Stafford, who passed away in 1993, was Oregon’s poet laureate from 1975 to 1990, and a professor at Lewis & Clark for more than 30 years. The William Stafford Archive is a collection of 40 years of daily journals and papers representing the poet’s methodical and disciplined writing process, as well as his world travels on behalf of writing and reconciliation.

“This vast treasure will enormously enhance the capacity for the research and study of Bill Stafford for writers, students and scholars from around the world,” said President Tom Hochstettler. “He has touched the lives of countless thousands as a writer and a teacher, and this gift will perpetuate his legacy for many future generations.”

Stafford is renowned for his pacifism, his exploration of encounters with nature, and his writings on human kinship. Born and raised in Kansas, Stafford earned a BA from the University of Kansas in 1937. While pursuing a master’s degree, he was he was drafted but registered as a conscientious objector. As a registered pacifist, he worked in the Civilian Public Service camps on forest and soil conservation from 1942 to 1946. His commitment to pacifism, nature, and human community would serve as guiding themes in his writing throughout his life.

During his years in camp, he met his life-long companion Dorothy and they were married in 1944. Together they had four children.

He received his M.A. from the University of Kansas in 1947 and earned a PhD from the University of Iowa in 1954. He taught at Lewis & Clark for most of his professional career until retiring in 1980. His first major collection of poetry Traveling Through the Dark was published in 1962, earning him the National Book Award the following year.

A prolific writer, he published more than 50 books in his lifetime and since his death, the Estate of William Stafford has assisted in the publication of 8 more. The Library of Congress appointed Stafford Poet Laureate in 1970. He traveled the world to share his poetry and lead workshops in hundreds of communities from Portland to Bangladesh.

“For William Stafford, the practice of writing and the life of witness were a single project,” said his son Kim Stafford, who has taught at Lewis & Clark for 25 years. “When my father got up before dawn to write, he was beginning his engagement with a world at war. As a writer, teacher, and witness, he sought reconciliation with the self, other people, and the earth. His writing holds out to us the possibility of friendship in all directions.”

As a disciplined daily writer, William Stafford also saved almost everything he wrote, including edits and final versions of his poems. Over the course of 40 years, he accumulated more than 20,000 pages of writings.

“The story of this man’s journey as a father, husband, writer, pacifist, naturalist, teacher and world traveler is laid bare in these papers,” said Paul Merchant, long-term archivist for the Stafford papers. “In some instances we see him wrestle with the words and a poem slowly emerges. Most days, though, you see Bill’s natural gift for poetry, where beautiful poems spill out in journal entries left with barely a correction. It is a sight to behold these papers.”

A number of dissertations and critical studies have appeared on William Stafford’s poetry, and Kim Stafford has written a biography of his father, Early Morning: Remembering My Father, William Stafford. The library plans to digitize the entire collection over the next two years and make it available online, enhancing scholarly research for historians, writers, and students alike. Doug Erickson, director of Special Collections, said the Stafford Archive is unprecedented in its volume and depth of detail. The collection also includes 90 discs of recordings from William Stafford poetry readings, fine press broadsides, and 15,000 photos he took over the course of his life.