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James Merrill Papers

Identifier: MS-MS-ms083

The collection holds a wide variety of materials that document James Ingram Merrill's entire life.

The extensive correspondence is between Merrill and his family, friends, business associates, and others. Thousands of pages of heavily annotated notebooks, typescripts, worksheets, and galleys show Merrill's work towards poems, fiction, and drama. The audiovisual and personal material document other aspects of Merrill's life.


  • 1926-2003


Conditions Governing Access

Some Restrictions. Contact Curator.

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.)


175.50 boxes

Biographical or Historical Information

James Ingram Merrill was born in New York City on March 3, 1926, and grew up in Manhattan and Southampton. He was the son of Charles Merrill, co-founder of the brokerage firm Merrill Lynch, and his second wife, Hellen Ingram. He began writing poems as a child, and at age sixteen, while he was in prep school, his father had a book of them privately printed under the title Jim's Books.

Merrill's studies at Amherst College were interrupted by service in the U.S. Army from 1944 to 1945. Another book, The Black Swan, was privately printed in 1946 while he was still in college. Following his graduation in 1947, he taught for a year at Bard College. His first trade book, First Poems, was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1951 to critical acclaim. In 1956 he used a portion of his inheritance to found the Ingram Merrill Foundation, which has since awarded grants to hundreds of artists and writers. Over the next decade he published two novels, The Seraglio (1957) and The (Diblos) Notebook (1965) as well as two books of poems, The Country of a Thousand Years of Peace (1959) and Water Street (1962). His 1966 collection of poems, Nights and Days, won the National Book Award and brought his work a wider audience.

He went on to earn numerous awards for his poetry, including the Bollingen Prize for Braving the Elements (1972), the Pulitzer Prize for Divine Comedies (1976), and a second National Book Award for Mirabell (1978). In 1983, his epic poem The Changing Light at Sandover (1982) won the National Book Critics Circle Award.

On February 6, 1995 James Merrill died of a heart attack in Tucson, Arizona. His last book, A Scattering of Salts, was published a month later.

Method of Acquisition

Most of the material was donated by James Merrill. Other portions of the collection were purchased from various individuals.

James Merrill Papers
Description rules
Language of description

Revision Statements

  • 2020 September 11: Resource record updated in ArchiveSpace by Sarah Schnuriger.
  • 2022 January 20 - April 28: 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