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May Swenson Papers

Identifier: MS-MS-ms111

The May Swenson Papers contain manuscript and editorial material toward most of her books including Another Animal (1954), A Cage of Spines (1958), To Mix with Time: New and Selected Poems (1963), and Half Sun Half Sleep (1967). This material includes drafts of individual poems as well as letters to and from various editors, friends, and readers. Swenson’s correspondents include John Hall Wheelock, and Burroughs Mitchell, but the most fascinating portion of the May Swenson Papers is her correspondence with the American poet Elizabeth Bishop. The two were close friends and Washington University holds 268 of their letters written from 1950 to 1979, the year of Bishop’s death.


  • 1929-1998


Conditions Governing Access


Conditions Governing Use

Users of the collection must read and agree to abide by the rules and procedures set forth in the Materials Use Policies.

Providing access to materials does not constitute permission to publish or otherwise authorize use. All publication not covered by fair use or other exceptions is restricted to those who have permission of the copyright holder, which may or may not be Washington University.

If you wish to publish or license Special Collections materials, please contact Special Collections to inquire about copyright status at (314) 935-5495 or (Publish means quotation in whole or in part in seminar or term papers, theses or dissertations, journal articles, monographs, books, digital forms, photographs, images, dramatic presentations, transcriptions, or any other form prepared for a limited or general public.)


225 boxes

Biographical Information

Anna Thilda May "May" Swenson (May 28, 1913 – December 4, 1989) was an American poet and playwright. Born in Utah, Swenson grew up as the eldest of 10 children in a Mormon household where Swedish was spoken regularly and English was a second language. She received a B.S. from Utah State University in 1939 and taught poetry at as poet-in-residence at Bryn Mawr, the University of North Carolina, the University of California at Riverside, Purdue University and Utah State University. From 1959 to 1966, she worked as a manuscript reviewer at New Directions publishers. Swenson left New Directions Press in 1966 in an effort to focus completely on her own writing. She also served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1980 until her death in 1989.

Her poems were published in Antaeus, The Atlantic Monthly, Carleton Miscellany, The Nation, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Saturday Review, Parnassus and Poetry. She received much recognition for her work, including: Guggenheim fellowship (1959), Amy Lowell Traveling Scholarship (1960), Ford Foundation grant (1964), Bollingen Prize for poetry (1981), and MacArthur Fellowship (1987).

Since her first collection of poems, Another Animal, was published by Scribner in 1954. Swenson's other collections of poems include A Cage of Spines (1958), To Mix with Time: New and Selected Poems (1963), Half Sun Half Sleep (1967), Iconographs (1970), New & Selected Things Taking Place (1978), and In Other Words (1987). Posthumous collections of her work include The Love Poems (1991), Nature: Poems Old and New (1994), and May Out West (1996). She is also the author of three collections of poems for younger readers, including Poems to Solve (1966) and More Poems to Solve (1968); a collection of essays, The Contemporary Poet as Artist and Critic (1964); and a one-act play titled The Floor, which was produced in New York in the 1960s. As translator, she published Windows and Stones: Selected Poems of Tomas Tranströmer (1972), which received a medal of excellence from the International Poetry Forum.

Method of Acquisition

Accession number 1448. Laid in material, January 2, 1976

Accession number 1541. Gift of May Swenson, January 22, 1982

Accession number 1640. Purchase, November 5, 1984

Accession number 1646. Purchase from May Swenson, December 17, 1984

Accession number 1801. Gift of the Estate of May Swenson, September 12, 1989

Accession number 1829. Gift of the Estate of May Swenson, March 10, 1990

Accession number 1843. Gift of the Estate of May Swenson, September 26, 1990

Accession number 1847. Gift of the Estate of May Swenson, October 9, 1990

Accession number 1854. Gift of the Estate of May Swenson, October 28, 1990

Accession number 1856. Gift of the Harry C. Smith, October 4, 1990

Accession number 1868. Gift of Diane Ackerman, March 6, 1991

Accession number 1869. Gift of Peggy Lockard, Pepper Publishing, March 6, 1991

Accession number 1876. Gift of the Estate of May Swenson, May 2, 1991

Accession number 1885. Gift of the Estate of May Swenson, June 11, 1991

Accession number 1918. Gift of the Estate of May Swenson, June 28, 1991

Accession number 1927. Gift of the Estate of May Swenson, August 7, 1991

Accession number 1935. Rozanne Knudson, October 21, 1991

Accession number 1936. Gift of Rozanne Knudson, December 30, 1991

Accession number 1948. Unknown, April 22, 1992

Accession number 1951. Gift of the Estate of May Swenson, July 27, 1992

Accession number 22750. Unknown, October 23, 2003

Accession number 22770. Unknown, October 23, 2003

Accession number 22780. Unknown

Accession number 22915. Purchase from Rozanne Knudson, October 13, 2003

Accession number 22942. Purchase from Carole Berglie, December 2, 1999

Accession number 22943. Unknown, Purchase

Accession number 22944. Estate of May Swenson, unknown

Accession number 23017. Unknown

Accession number 23018. Unknown

Accession number 23019. Unknown

Accession number 23020. Unknown

Accession number 23021. Unknown

Accession number 23029. Gift of Rozanne Knudson, November 3, 2003

Accession number 23035. Purchase from Rozanne Knudson, 2004

Accession number 23046. Rozanne Knudson, unknown

Accession number 23055. Unknown, September 8, 2004

Accession number 23056. Rozanne Knudson, unknown

Accession number 23070. Rozanne Knudson, January 2005

Accession number 23913. Gift of unknown, 2007

Accession number 23925. Gift of unknown, October 23, 2007

Accession number 23960. Purchase from the Estate of May Swenson, August 10, 2010

Accession number 2013.009. Purchase from Carole Berglie, January 1, 2013

Accession number MSS2016-015. Purchase from Carole Berglie, May 15, 2016

Accession number MS-2023-009. Gift of Carole Berglie, January 3, 2023

May Swenson Papers
Description rules
Language of description

Revision Statements

  • 2021 March 12: Resource record updated in ArchiveSpace by Sarah Schnuriger.

Collecting Area Details

Part of the Manuscripts Collecting Area

Joel Minor
Olin Library, 1 Brookings Drive
MSC 1061-141-B
St. Louis MO 63130 US
(314) 935-5495