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David Wagoner Papers

Identifier: MS-MS-ms122

The David Wagoner Papers consist of two accruals. The first consists of correspondence (1953-1965), notebooks (1944-1959), individual poem and essay drafts, material toward plays including Everyman for Himself, and material toward books including The Escape Artist (1965) and Rock (1958).

The second accrual occurred in 2012, in which nearly 80 additional linear feet was added to the collection, including personal and professional photographs, notebooks, diaries, scrapbooks, teaching materials, ephemera, realia, and clippings that span more than 80 years. Also included are drafts of numerous published and unpublished novels, essays, short stories and poems; materials toward novels including The Escape Artist, Tracker, Where Is My Wandering Boy Tonight?, The Road to Many a Wonder, Whole Hog, and Rock; material toward poetry collections including The Hanging Garden, Sleeping in the Woods, Walt Whitman Bathing, Through the Forest, and First Light; material toward plays including Every Man for Himself, The Song of Songs Which is Sheba’s, The Harp and the Slingshot, and The Ram in the Thicket. Finally, the new accession contains materials from Wagoner’s long tenure as editor of Poetry Northwest and substantial correspondence with other significant poets, such as Wagoner’s friend and mentor, Theodore Roethke.

The majority of the second accrual to this collection was processed between August 2018 and January 2019. There are three sections of uncataloged material still remaining: Series 1, Correspondence; Series 2, Poetry, and Series 4.1, Poetry Northwest Correspondence. Please contact the Manuscript Department for more information.


  • 1938-2012


Conditions Governing Access


Conditions Governing Use

Contains restrictions. Please contact the Manuscript Curator at (314) 935-5495 or for further information.

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.)


188.00 boxes

Biographical Information

David Russell Wagoner (June 5, 1926 – December 18, 2021) was a prolific and highly regarded poet, novelist, educator and editor. He was most associated with the Pacific Northwest, especially in the realm of nature, but wrote on a wide array of subjects. He also had a strong reputation as a teacher of writing and served as editor of the distinguished literary journal Poetry Northwest for nearly 36 years. Among his published works are 24 collections of poems—two of which were finalists for the National Book Award—as well as ten novels.

Born in Massillon, Ohio and raised in Whiting, Indiana from the age of seven, Wagoner started writing poetry in grade school. While an undergraduate at Pennsylvania State University he studied under the poet Theodore Roethke. He received an M.A. in the writing program at the Indiana University in 1949, then taught at DePauw University and Penn State and worked as a reporter at The Hammond Times in Indiana. He published his first poetry collection, Dry Sun, Dry Wind, in 1953, and started teaching at the University of Washington in 1954, having been hired there on the suggestion of Roethke who had been teaching there himself.

The natural environment of the Pacific Northwest was the subject of much of David Wagoner’s poetry. Citing his move from the industrial Midwest as a defining moment, Wagoner soon became best known as a poet and novelist whose work was attentive to place, environment, and the natural world, and dealt with the corrupting influences of modern society. He also wrote insightfully of childhood memories and often addressed his more lighthearted poems to other people, such as a student who fell asleep in a poetry workshop, or a couple making love upstairs while he tried to write a poem.

Wagoner’s poetry collections include Traveling Light: Collected and New Poems(1999); Walt Whitman Bathing (1996); Through the Forest: New and Selected Poems (1987); First Light (1983); Landfall (1981); Collected Poems, 1956-1976 (1976), and In Broken Country (1979). His collection Who Shall Be the Sun? (1978) is a collection of poems based on the folklore, legends, and myths of indigenous peoples of the Northwest Coast and Plateau regions.

Other collections of poetry include Sleeping in the Woods (1974), Riverbed (1972), New and Selected Poems (1969), Staying Alive (1966), The Nesting Ground (1963) and A Place to Stand (1958). His novels include The Escape Artist (1965), which was adapted into a movie by Francis Ford Coppola in 1982. He is also the editor of Straw for the Fire: From the Notebooks of Theodore Roethke, 1943-63 (1972).

Wagoner was selected to serve as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 1978 and was the recipient of numerous awards including the Pushcart Prize, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, the Sherwood Anderson Foundation Fiction Award, the English-Speaking Union prize from Poetry Magazine, the Arthur Rense Prize, and the prestigious Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize.

In 1991, the poet Rita Dove, a judge in the Lilly competition, told The Seattle Post-Intelligencer why she thought Mr. Wagoner deserved that prize. “He has never imitated himself,” she said. “He has always moved in deeper directions; he has always been exploring something new.” He also received fellowships from the Ford Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

After receiving emeritus status at the University of Washington in 2002, Wagoner continued to write and publish poetry in periodicals, anthologies, and books, such as The House of Song (2002), Good Morning and Good Night (2005), and After the Point of No Return (2012). He also continued to teach well into his eighties, in the low-residency MFA program of the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts on Whidbey Island.

Related Materials

See also 1959-2002 digitized issues of Poetry Northwest here.

Processing Information

Processed by Steven H. Daley.

David Wagoner Papers
Description rules
Language of description

Revision Statements

  • 2021 February 19: Resource record updated in ArchiveSpace by Sarah Schnuriger.
  • 2021 September 10 - 2022 January 20: Additional data cleanup by Kate Goldkamp.

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