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William H. Gass Papers

Identifier: MS-MS-ms051

The William H. Gass Papers consist largely of his own manuscript material: manuscripts and proof material toward his books, drafts of various stories, essays, and reviews, interviews, and a miscellaneous assortment of notes and other materials. Also present is a substantial amount of professional correspondence, primarily with universities, magazines, and publishers, as well as with his colleagues in academia and in the literary community.


  • 1948-2015


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.)


73 linear feet

146 boxes

Biographical or Historical Information

William Howard Gass (July 30, 1924 - December 6, 2017) was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, critic, and former philosophy professor. Born in Fargo, North Dakota, Gass grew up in Warren, Ohio, where he graduated from Warren G. Harding High School.  He has described his childhood as an unhappy one, with an abusive, racist father and a passive, alcoholic mother. He attended Wesleyan University, and then served as an Ensign in the Navy during World War II for three and a half years. He earned his A.B. in philosophy from Kenyon College in 1947 where he graduated magna cum laude. From there he entered Cornell University as a Susan Linn Fellow in philosophy and by 1954 had earned his PhD in that subject. His dissertation, "A Philosophical Investigation of Metaphor," was based on his training as a philosopher of language.

Gass taught at The College of Wooster for four years, Purdue University for sixteen, and Washington University in St. Louis, where he was a professor of philosophy (1969–1978) and the David May Distinguished University Professor in the Humanities (1979–1999). Since 2000, Gass has been the David May Distinguished University Professor Emeritus in the Humanities.  In 1990, Gass founded the International Writers Center at Washington University, whose purpose was to "build on the strengths of its resident and visiting faculty writers; to serve as a focal point for writing excellence in all disciplines and in all cultures; to be a directory for writers and writing programs at Washington University, in St. Louis, in the United States, and around the world; and to present the writer to the reader."

Gass’ first novel, Omensetter's Luck, about life in a small town in Ohio in the 1890s, was published in 1966. Critics praised his linguistic virtuosity, establishing him as an important writer of fiction. In 1968, he published In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, five stories dramatizing the theme of human isolation and the difficulty of love. That same year Gass published Willie Masters' Lonesome Wife, an experimental novella illustrated with photographs and typographical constructs intended to help readers free themselves from the linear conventions of narrative. He has also published several collections of essays, including Fiction and the Figures of Life (1970) and Finding a Form (1996). Despite his prolific output, he has said that writing is difficult for him. In fact, his epic novel The Tunnel, published in 1995, took Gass twenty-six years to write.

Gass received many awards and honors, including grants from the Rockefeller Foundation in 1965, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in 1970. He won the Pushcart Prize awards in 1976, 1983, 1987, and 1992, and in 1994 he received the Mark Twain Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Literature of the Midwest. In 1975, he received the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Fiction and the American Book Award for The Tunnel in 1997. In 2000, he was honored with the PEN/Nabokov award and the PEN/Nabokov Lifetime Achievement award which he has called his "most prized prize." Gass has received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism three times, for Habitations of the Word (1985), Finding a Form (1997) and Tests of Time (2003).

Method of Acquisition

Accession number 954, Purchase from House of Books, July 19, 1968

Accession number 1027, Gift of William H. Gass, March 7, 1969

Accession number 1616, Purchase from unknown, April 11, 1984

Accession number 1862, Gift of William H. Gass, February 3, 1991

Accession number 1966, Gift of William H. Gass, December 27, 1992

Accession number 2146, Gift of William H. Gass, July 28, 1994

Accession number 2235, Gift of International Writers Center, October 10, 2000

Accession number 22925, Gift of William H. Gass, circa 1999

Accession number 22927, Gift of William H. Gass, circa 1994

Accession number 22984, Unknown

Accession number 23034, Gift of William H. Gass, August 1, 2004

Accession number 23038, Gift of William H. Gass, circa 2004

Accession number 23075, Unknown

Accession number 23084, Unknown, November 2005

Accession number 23890, Gift of Heide Ziegler, circa 2006

Accession number 23927, Gift of Lorin Cuoco, April 10, 2007

Accession number 23947, Purchase from Glenn Horowitz Bookseller, Inc., November 2, 2009

Accession number 23964, Gift of Glenn Horowitz Bookseller, Inc., November 5, 2010

Accession number 2012.018, Transfer from University Archives, July 19, 2012

Accession number 2012.027, Gift of William H. Gass, November 15, 2012

Accession number 2012.029, Purchase from Between the Covers, November 21, 2012

Accession number 2013.034, Gift of William H. Gass, December 20, 2013

Accession number 2016-021, Gift of Thomas LeClair, September 30, 2016

Related Materials

See also MS059 International Writers Center Archive and VMF245 Lawrence Levy Collection.


William H. Gass Papers
Description rules
Language of description

Revision Statements

  • 2020 August 21: 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