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William Gaddis Papers

Identifier: MS-MS-ms049
William Gaddis
William Gaddis

The William Gaddis Papers consist largely of his own manuscript material: manuscripts and source material toward his books, drafts of various stories, published and unpublished, as well as essays, reviews, interviews, and a miscellaneous assortment of notes and other materials. Also present is a substantial amount of personal and general correspondence, primarily with family, friends, and fans. In addition, there is a relatively large amount of correspondence to editors, translators, and publishers, as well as correspondence with his colleagues in the literary community.


  • 1902-1998


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.)

Copyright to significant portions of the collection held by Matthew and Sarah Gaddis. All inquiries concerning publication should be directed to The Wylie Agency, 250 West 57th Street, Suite 2114 New York, NY 10107.


133 boxes (4 oversized objects)

107 linear feet

Biographical Information

William Thomas Gaddis, Jr. was born on December 29, 1922 in Manhattan and raised in Massepequa (Long Island), by his parents, Edith and William Thomas Gaddis, Sr. His father left the family when he was three years old. Two years later, Edith sent her only child to Merricourt Boarding School in Berlin, Connecticut. Gaddis continued in private school until the eighth grade, after which he returned to Long Island to receive his diploma at Farmingdale High School in 1941.

Gaddis entered Harvard University on scholarship in the fall of 1941, where he continued until an illness forced him to take a medical leave of absence. After being reinstated at Harvard in the fall of 1942, Gaddis majored in English. By the fall of 1943, Gaddis had joined the staff of the Harvard Lampoon, where he would eventually serve as President. After leaving Harvard without a degree in 1945, Gaddis moved to Greenwich Village. During this time, he worked at the New Yorker; however, his most important hours were spent socializing with the emerging Beat Generation and working on his first novel, The Recognitions (1955). During this period, Gaddis also traveled throughout Central America, Europe, and Northern Africa.

Shortly after the publication of The Recognitions, Gaddis married his first wife, Patsy Black, who would give birth to his only children, Sarah and Matthew. His first novel was not well-received by academia, literary critics, or the purchasing public, and so from the late 1950s to the the mid 1970s, Gaddis worked for Pfizer International, Eastman Kodak, IBM, and the United States Army, as a speechwriter and/or screenwriter to support his family.

In 1975, twenty years after his first novel, he published J.R., which would go on to win a National Book Award in 1976. By this time, he was also involved in his second marriage to Judith Thompson, which would dissolve shortly after J.R. was published. By the late 1970s, Gaddis had met Muriel Oxenberg Murphy, with whom he would reside until the mid-1990s.

Gaddis' third novel Carpenter's Gothic, (1985) which he called a 'romance,' would be nominated for a PEN/Faulkner Award, while his fourth novel, A Frolic of His Own (1994), would earn him a second National Book Award in 1995. Gaddis was also awarded a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Guggenheim, a Lannan Foundation grant, and a MacArthur Foundation award. He was a member of PEN and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

William Thomas Gaddis died of prostate cancer in 1998. His final work, Agapé, Agape, was published four years later in the fall of 2002.

Method of Acquisition

Purchased from the Estate of William Gaddis, circa March 2002.

Accession number 22902.

Accession number 22912.

Accession number 22914.

Accession number 23969. Purchase from Ralph Sipper Books, June 24, 2011.

Accession number 23951. Purchase from Heritage Auction House, February 11, 2010.

Accession number 2012.025. Purchase from Ralph Sipper Books, September 18, 2012.

Accession number MSS2019-22. Gift of Martin Filler, September 16, 2019.

Accession number MSS2021-007. Purchase from Passages Bookshop, January 21, 2021.

Accession number MS-2023-010. Gift of Sarah and Matthew Gaddis, October 18, 2022.

Related Materials

See also the Steven Moore Collection of William Gaddis Research (MS156), the Richard Hazelton Papers (MS131), the Hunter Low Papers (MS132), the Charles Monaghan Papers (MS076), and the Donald Oresman Papers (MS130)

Processing Information

Processed by Crystal Alberts: Summer 2003 and 2004

Processed by Benjamin Cooper: Summer 2005

Additional processing and rehousing by Sarah Schnuriger, 2021-2022

At Fortress FAE, before shipping, the older boxes in which the collection was packed (some of them apparently Gaddis' own liquor boxes), had to be replaced as they were water damaged. Often the shipping cartons into which the materials were placed were smaller than the original boxes, and so were re-numbered using letters of the alphabet. For example, during pre-shipping pre-processing, a box numbered 20 in the original booksellers inventory might be replaced with three cartons numbered 20a, 20b, and 20c. The same process was used with oversize folders, in order to save wear and tear on the materials as they were shipped. There is a shipping inventory that describes all of this. In addition to housing problems, a large portion of the collection was in poor order, but the decision was made to ship the materials and address the organization of the collection at Washington University.

The William Gaddis Papers arrived from Fortress FAE in New York City after having been packed in 42 archival cartons. They were accompanied by 3 pallets of books from his working library. The collection arrived with two inventories: one created by the bookseller and a partial inventory created and maintained by William Gaddis through 1994. The bookseller's inventory roughly followed Gaddis's.

In the course of processing at the university, the box numbers established by the bookseller's inventory were retained with the materials, but processing and preservation issues required a different arrangement with a new enumeration of boxes and folders. When an item was moved from a location in the initiall inventory, a separation note was added to describe from where the item was taken and to where it was moved.

The correspondence in the collection was surveyed at Washington University. Two sorts of correspondence files were in the collection. There were files consisting of correspondence alone. These correspondence files were filed in chronological order by year in a correspondence series. Other correspondence within files was left where it was.

The novel drafts were left in the order in which Gaddis and/or the bookseller placed them. Some of the longer drafts were placed in multiple folders where this was necessary for preservation purposes. In certain cases, some of the drafts in the collection were created by Gaddis using strips of paper with typed text taped or glued to other pieces of paper. These were placed in protective mylar sleeves and photocopied. At times the strips had fallen off of the page because of the deterioration of the tape or glue. If this occurred, processors noted that the original order was lost.

The collection contains a large amount of newspaper print materials and faxed items. As Gaddis's works engage popular culture so intensely, these have been retained within the collection. There is no telling which bit of popular culture may have found its way into his novels. The most at risk of these items are being photocopied for preservation purposes. Occasionally, the items are so faded and/or deteriorated that they require a transcription by the processor in order to preserve the information. When this occurs, the processor makes a note that a transcription was made of the original. Rarely, the item is too damaged and/or faded to preserve the information.

Business papers consists of contracts and royalty statements found in correspondence files. These materials were transferred to their own series for preservation purposes.

Personal papers consists of materials related to personal, medical, and educational business, as well as genealogy that were found in correspondence files. These materials were transferred to their own series for preservation purposes.

The audiovisual series consists of cassette tapes, a Beta videocassette, photographs and negatives originally found throughout the collection. They were gathered into a separate series during the processing of the collection for preservation purposes. Most items have a separation note describing from which folder the item was taken.

Bound texts found in the collection, particularly those found in boxes designated by the bookseller as 12, 26-29, 41-42, were moved to Rare Books for cataloging. The books that made up William Gaddis' Working Library were also moved to Rare Books for cataloging. Whenever a bound text was transferred from the collection to Rare Books, a separation note was added.

Any items determined to be oversize were transferred from the location they were in when the collection arrived at Washington University to an oversize location for preservation purposes. Generally, separation notes accompany these items.



William Gaddis Papers
Description rules
Language of description

Revision Statements

  • 2021 March 4: 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