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News Release — February 10, 1999

Ransom Center Acquires Major Archive of Pulitzer Prize Winning Poet James Tate

The Harry Ransom Center has acquired the archive of Pulitzer Prize winning poet James Tate. Containing correspondence with over 100 notable literary figures and manuscripts for virtually all of Tate's major works, the archive gives scholars the materials to study in depth the creative process of one of the world's greatest living poets.

Tate's papers will be in esteemed company at the Ransom Center, which holds a distinguished collection of American poetry. Among others, the Ransom Center has the archives of E.E. Cummings, Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton, and much of Ezra Pound. "With the Tate archive," observed director Dr. Thomas Staley, "the Ransom Center now boasts a collection of American poetry that figures prominently in major literary movements spanning the twentieth century--from Pound and modernism to Sexton and Lowell at mid-century, and now through Tate, a major figure of the later decades."

Born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1943, James Tate went on to study at the University of Missouri and Kansas State College, ultimately receiving an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa in 1967. Tate has taught at Iowa, the University of California-Berkeley, Columbia, and since 1971, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. In addition to the Pulitzer, he is a recipient of the Yale Younger Poets Prize, the National Book Award, and the Tanning Prize, which awards the largest stipend of any literary award. Tate is a member of the Academy of American Poets and a former Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts Fellow.

James Tate's Archive at the Ransom Center

The Ransom Center's recently acquired Tate archive consists of over 20 boxes of materials, complementing an additional 18 boxes already in the Center's possession.

Highlights of the newly arrived archive include:

  • Drafts and typescripts for The Lost Pilot, Constant Defender, Worshipful Company of Fletchers, and Shroud of the Gnome
  • Typescripts and manuscripts for Distance From Loved Ones
  • Page proofs and edited typescripts for Reckoner
  • Bound page and galley proofs for Absences and The Oblivion Ha-Ha
  • Several notebooks containing ideas for poems, rough drafts, story ideas, and diaries
  • Over 50 unpublished poems written between 1990 and 1994
  • Extensive correspondence with over 100 literary figures including John Ashbery, Russell Banks, Annie Dillard, Russell Edson, Seamus Heaney, Octavio Paz, Charles Simic, Mark Strand, and Kurt Vonnegut.

Tate's Poetry and Career

Tate's poetry is characterized by surreal settings and whimsical manipulation of clichŽs and stock phrases. However, unlike many surreal poets, Tate's tendency toward the comic and absurd is tempered by his ability to create identifiable context and meaning. Typical Tate themes include confronting death, the difficulties of human relationships, and responses to the banal aspects of modern life.

Tate began writing poetry at the age of seventeen, and a short six years later published his seminal work, The Lost Pilot (1967). In it, Tate seeks both to commemorate and to come to terms with the death of his father, a World War II bomber pilot shot down over Germany and never found. Hailed by critics, The Lost Pilot garnered Tate the Yale Younger Poets Prize, making him the youngest ever winner of the prestigious award. Subsequent works of note include The Oblivion Ha-Ha (1970), Absences (1972), Constant Defender (1983), Reckoner (1986), and Distance From Loved Ones (1990). In 1992, Tate won the Pulitzer Prize for Selected Poems, a collection of work ranging from The Lost Pilot to Reckoner. Writing on the compilation for the New York Times Book Review, Richard Tillinghast observed that "Tate has created a voice and kind of poem that no one else could have written."

With the publication of Worshipful Company of Fletchers in 1994, Tate was awarded the National Book Award. This highly meditative volume earned wide praise, affirming Tate's status as one this century's major American poets. According to Amy Gerstler, writing in the Los Angeles Times, "I know of no American poet...who makes better use of humor as an explorer's tool, to probe thought, experience, and emotion."

Tate's most recent work, Shroud of the Gnome, was published in 1997.

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