A collection of books and papers relating to the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet James Merrill has been donated to the Vassar College Libraries by alumna and longtime Merrill friend and neighbor, Bannon McHenry ’52.
Merrill and McHenry’s friendship spanned many years. They lived in the same building on Manhattan’s Upper East Side immortalized in Merrill’s poem, “164 East 72nd Street.” McHenry created an extensive archive of her friend’s works, including a number of items inscribed to her by Merrill.
The collection donated to Vassar includes all of Merrill’s printed works, books about him, books from his library, photographs, and correspondence.
Although the body of Merrill’s work spans plays and prose, he is most known for his poetry. Merrill, who died in 1995, was widely regarded as one of the leading poets of his generation. Over the course of his career, he won nearly every major literary award in America: he received two National Book Awards, for Nights and Days (1966) and Mirabell: Books of Numbers (1978); Merrill’s long Ouija-inspired epic poem The Changing Light at Sandover (1982) won the National Book Critics Circle Award, and he was awarded the inaugural Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry by the Library of Congress for his book The Inner Room (1988); he also received both the Bollingen Prize in Poetry and the Pulitzer Prize, the latter for a book of occult poetry called Divine Comedies (1976). The New York Times wrote of his work, “Merrill has few peers, and none among contemporary poets working in meter and rhyme.”
“This Merrill collection is a significant acquisition for Vassar,” says Special Collections Librarian Ronald Patkus. “It offers an important view on the man and his work and his connection to Vassar through this extraordinary friendship only adds to the value for us. This collection also complements Vassar’s holdings of other 20th century writers, such as Elizabeth Bishop and Mary McCarthy.
The Bannon McHenry-James Merrill Collection will reside in the Archives and Special Collections Library. In coming weeks, the materials will be catalogued, and when this work is completed, the collection will be available to researchers. The Library is also planning an exhibition of the materials, to likely take place in time to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Merrill’s death.
Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.