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Weldon Kees, Papers

Identifier: MS-0559

Scope and Contents

The papers consist of typed manuscripts by Weldon Kees. Nearly all the works in Poems 1947-1954 and many of those in Collected Poems are represented by multiple drafts with annotations. There are also some unpublished materials including poems and a short story, as well as tearsheets of published poems. There are over half a dozen typed play manuscripts and about a dozen songs by Kees, several written with Bob Helm. Other items include manuscripts of studies by noted Kees associates, friends, and scholars.

There are letters to Kees from Ann Kees, Norris Getty, abstract expressionist Fritz Bultman, novelist Tony Myrer, and gallery owner Lou Peridot. Correspondence with Charles Addams, Whitney Darrow Jr., Peter Arno, Peter de Vries, and Mischa Richter are comprised of Kees's gag ideas and responses from some of the cartoonists. There are also letters to Kees from Louise Bogan, John Cheever, Malcolm Cowley, Waldo Frank, Ring Lardner, Archibald MacLeish, Howard Nemerov, Allen Tate, Calder Willingham, Wendell Willkie, and Edmund Wilson.

The papers include diaries belonging to Kees from 1943 up to 1954. The first diary in 1943 begins just as Kees arrives in wartime New York looking for work. Subsequent diaries follow Kees as he turns to abstract painting and then songwriting. Kees’s diaries provide times of day, appointments, events, and over 350 personal names of friends, work colleagues, poets, authors, painters, and musicians, as well as institution, restaurant and club names, and book, poem, song, and film titles. The diaries record Kees’s thoughts and concerns as well as his activities and interests, such as problems at work, who attended which parties, specific dates he started a poem or a painting, where he sent manuscripts for review or publication, and comments books, movies, and bands that played at his favorite nightclub.

The papers feature many photos of Kees, both smaller candid shots and larger formal photos, as well as many prints and transparencies of his paintings, some in color. There are photos of his wife, Ann (Swan) Kees. There are photographs of Kees and public events, such as Forum '49 symposiums, theatrical endeavors in San Francisco, the Poets’ Follies, and posthumous retrospectives of Kees's paintings at the Gertrude Stein Gallery, Kees's hometown of Beatrice, Nebraska, and the University of Iowa, including publicity, reviews, clippings, correspondence, and ephemera.

The papers include 32 reel-to-reel audio tape recordings of Kees playing piano, song rehearsals of the Poets' Follies, and Bay Area KRE and KPFA radio programs hosted by Kees and Michael Grieg, many of them from their "Behind the Movie Camera" series, discussing popular movies and film techniques.


  • 1993-2008


Conditions Governing Access

The papers are only minimally processed but are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Property rights reside with the University of Nebraska. Copyrights are retained by the creators of the papers or their designees. For permission to reproduce or to publish, please contact Archives & Special Collections.

Biographical / Historical

Weldon Kees was born in Beatrice, Nebraska, on 24 February 1914 to John and Sarah Kees. After high school he attended Doane College and the University of Missouri - Columbia, though in 1935 he received his degree from the University of Nebraska. For a short period after he graduated from the University, he worked on the Federal Writers Project in Lincoln, Nebraska. In 1937 he moved to Denver, Colorado, and worked as a librarian and the Director of the Bibliographic Center. From 1943 until 1949 Kees lived in New York City and in 1950 relocated to San Francisco. Kees is presumed to have died by suicide, having abandoned his car at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California, on 18 July 1955.

Kees's creative energy led him in many directions including poetry, artwork, music, playwriting, photography, and filmmaking. The Colt Press published Kees's first book of poetry, The Last Man in 1943. Reynal and Hitchcock published his second collection of poetry The Fall of Magicians in 1947. In New York Kees shifted from poetry to painting. His abstract paintings were shown at two one-man shows at the Peridot Gallery in New York, owned by Lou Pollack. Kees earned money writing reviews for Time magazine, writing scripts for wartime newsreels, and writing art criticism for The Nation.


5.75 Linear Feet (10 boxes, 1 oversize folder)

Language of Materials


Finding aid prepared by Sarah Glover, 2023.
(cc) 2023
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Repository Details

Part of the Archives & Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries Repository

Archives & Special Collections
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries
P.O. Box 884100
Lincoln NE 68588-4100 United States