Monthly Archives: February 2015

Another February Literary Birthday–James Dickey

James Dickey in his study.

James Dickey was born on February 2, 1923 in Buckhead, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta.  From an early age his lawyer father read his son famous speeches which awakened in him an interest in poetry.  His first purchase as a young man was the collected works of Byron.

At 6 feet, three inches tall he played high school football, and then varsity at Clemson.  In 1942, he enlisted in the Air Force and between missions read the poetry of Conrad Aiken and other poets, finally developing a taste for apocalyptic poets such as Dylan Thomas and Kenneth Patchen.

After the war, he studies anthropology, astronomy, philosophy, and foreign languages, as well as English literature at Vanderbilt.  He began publishing poems and continued to study in graduate school at Vanderbilt and Rice.

Another stint in the Air Force during the Korean War had him training officers.  When he left he briefly turned to teaching at the University of Florida.  In 1956, he moved to New York City where he wrote advertising copy at McCann-Ericson Agency.  He eventually moved back to Atlanta to work in advertising there.

In 1960, his first collection of poetry, Into the Stone and Other Poems, was published and he soon left advertising behind.  He received a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Melville Cane Award and the National Book Award.  And though he thought of himself as a poet, he is probably most widely remembered for his best-selling novel, Deliverance.

“Applauded for their ambitious experimentation with language and syntax, Dickey’s poems address humanity and violence by presenting the instincts of humans and animals as antithetical to the false safety of civilization. Called “willfully eccentric” by the New York Times

In the Rare Book Room.

In the Rare Book Room.

Book Review and “naturally musical” by the Chicago Tribune Book World, Dickey’s work testifies to the power of the human spirit, especially under extreme conditions.” (

The Galvin Rare Book Room has three of Dickey’s works. A first edition of Deliverance, signed by the author.  A book of his collected poems, signed “to the students and faculty of the University of Richmond and Boatwright Memorial Library, Christmas, 1975.”  And finally, The Strength of Fields, written for the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter.

Born on the 14th of February

Frank Harris

We should probably be running a post about Frank Harris during Banned Books Week instead of as a representative of February 14th, his birthday in 1855.  Born in Ireland, he was an editor, journalist and publisher, who hobnobbed with the likes of George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, H. G. Wells, Winston Churchill and Max Beerbohm.   While his reputation painted him as a rake and rascal, he idealized Jesus, Goethe, and Shakespeare, and was almost elected a Conservative Member of Parliament.

Early in life, he emigrated to America, settled in Kansas and did odd jobs until finally attending the University of Kansas to study law.  He graduated, became a citizen and practiced law until he grew tired of the law and went back to Europe in 1882.  After traveling around, he settled in London and became a journalist.

He had quite a reputation for irascible and outspoken personality, and his editorship of London papers and Pearson’s magazine. He also wrote short stories, and novels, two books on Shakespeare, five volumes under the title Contemporary Portraits, and biographies of his friends Wilde and Shaw. His book My Reminiscences as a Cowboy was made into a movie with Jack Lemmon. But his most notorious publication was his four volume memoir, My Life and Loves which destroyed his reputation. The book was banned in many countries for its sexual explicitness.

The Galvin Rare Book Room has three of his books, one signed.  Unpath’d Waters, a collection of stories with titles such as The Holy Man and The King of the Jews.  (Rare Book Room PR4759.H37 U53 1913)  Elder Conklin and other stories, is a bit racier than the former book.  (Rare Book Room PR4759.H37 E4 1894) And the third book is a treatise on the first World War, England or Germany–? (Rare Book Room D523.H251915) with chapters titled “Christian Morality and War”, “The ‘Soul of Goodness in Things Evil'”, and “Who Will Win the War?”  Mr. Harris was a write not to be pigeonholed!


Valentine, the Artist


Portrait of Edward V. Valentine.

Portrait of Edward V. Valentine.

In researching timely items for blogging, sometimes interesting things pop up that we weren’t expecting. Because it’s February, we decided to see what rare books and special collections had to offer on Valentine’s Day. In looking up Valentine in the catalog, meaning the day to give love notes and flowers, we came across listings for books about and by the Valentine Museum. And there was the book, Dawn to Twilight: work of Edward V. Valentine, by his great niece, Elizabeth Gray Valentine, and signed by Valentine and the author. (Galvin Rare Book Room NB237.V3 V3.)

Edward Valentine was born in Richmond in 1838. He studied under Couture and Jouffroy in Paris; with Bonanti in Italy; and August Kiss in Berlin. He worked in clay, plaster, marble and bronze to create portrait busts, ideal figures, and public sculpture. In his 50 year career, he specialized in notable Southerners and fellow Virginians building a reputation as one of the most talented Southern sculptors of the post-Civil War period. Some of his most famous works are the recumbent statue of Robert E. Lee at Washington & Lee University, the statue of Jefferson at the Jefferson Hotel, and the Jefferson Davis Monument on Monument Avenue.

Recumbent Lee by Edward V. Valentine.

Recumbent Lee by Edward V. Valentine.

He briefly headed the Valentine Richmond History Center and his restored studio is part of that facility. (You can visit it downtown at 1015 East Clay Street.) In the latter years of his life, he put aside sculpture and spent his time researching his native city, Richmond. Dawn to Twilight uses his diaries and his own stories to tell more about this fascinating life.


A Literary Star

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison

Born Chloe Anthony Wofford on February 18, 1931 in Lorain, Ohio, Toni Morrison has won the Nobel Prize and the Pulitzer Prize for her writing. She was the second oldest of four children. Her father was a welder and her mother was a domestic worker. She credits them with instilling in her a love of reading, music, and folklore.

Morrison graduated high school with honors. She studied English and the Classics at Howard University, then graduate school at Cornell, where her thesis was on the works of Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner. After completing her Master’s she taught English at Texas Southern University and then Howard University where she met her husband, Harold. In 1961, she joined a writer’s group on campus and began working on her first novel, The Bluest Eye, 1970. The book received warm reviews but did not sell well.

She continued to explore the African American experience in different forms and time periods, bringing forth Sula in 1973, which was nominated for the American Book Award. Song of Solomon (1977) became the first work by an African American writer since Richard Wright to be a featured selection in the Book of the Month Club. In 1980, Morrison was appointed to the National Council of the Arts.

Her next book, Tar Baby, inspired by folktaltarbabyes, drew mixed reviews from critics, but it was her subsequent work that has proved to be one of her greatest masterpieces, Beloved (1987).

Morrison has gone on to write many more amazing books, including children’s literature with her son, Slade; the libretto for an opera; and several works of non-fiction.

Ms. Morrison has visited the University of Richmond more than once. The Galvin Rare Book Room has a first edition of her novel, Tar Baby, signed by the author.