Welch, Lew, 1926-1971

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Although Lewis Barrett Welch's life was marked by uncertainty and a lack of permanent goals, he gained an enduring position in the world of literature through his writings and personal influence.

Welch was born 16 August 1926 in Phoenix, Arizona, to Lewis Barrett Welch Sr. and Dorothy Brownfield Welch. Mrs. Welch was the daughter of a wealthy Phoenix surgeon. Lew Welch claimed that he began suffering mental breakdowns while still a baby, about which he once told David Melzer, "I went to the loony bin when I was fourteen months old. . . It is the world's record. Even among my beat generation friends. I have the world's record. I copped out, I went crazy, split, I said 'forget it!'"

Following the birth of Welch's sister his parents marriage broke up, and Dorothy Welch moved the family to California in 1929. Welch was three at the time, and for most of his childhood his mother moved from town to town in California. He attended schools in Santa Monica, Coronado, La Mesa, and El Cajon. In Palo Alto Welch finished high school.

While still in school Welch enlisted in the Air Force, and he entered the Force following graduation. He spent less than a year in the service and then returned to California, where he enrolled at Stockton Junior College. While at Stockton he met James Wilson, a teacher who encouraged him to write. It was Wilson who suggested that Welch study at Reed College, a school in Oregon with a reputation for a progressive faculty and student body.

Welch entered Reed College in 1948, and the following year moved into a house with Gary Snyder; the following year they were joined by Philip Whalen. By the fall of 1949 Welch was co-editor of the school's literary magazine and was writing constantly. He wrote his senior thesis on Gertrude Stein and graduated in 1950.

The period following Welch's graduation was marked by turbulence. During the summer of 1950 he planned to move to Chile, and he asked his mother for a $1000 loan for the trip. By fall he had changed his plans and remained in Oregon. Late in the year he met William Carlos Williams, who was to become Welch's hero. Welch went to visit Williams in New Jersey and ultimately rented an apartment in New York City. His initial enthusiasm for the city soon diminished, however, and after a brief stay in Florida he moved to Chicago. There he enrolled in the Master's program at the University of Chicago. Again, he quickly became discouraged and depressed, and in 1951 suffered a nervous breakdown.

Welch dropped out of school and began undergoing psychoanalysis.

He lived a relatively tranquil life for the next five years, and in 1953 he went to work preparing ads for Montgomery Ward. Shortly thereafter he married Mary Garber.

For a number of years Welch showed his poetry only to close friends. With the emergence of the Beat movement, however, Welch's friends Philip Whalen and Gary Snyder began receiving national attention. Welch's desire to devote himself completely to his poetry was revived. He transferred to the Oakland office of Montgomery Ward and soon became a part of the San Francisco poetry scene. In 1958 he was fired from his job. His marriage fell apart soon after.

At the same time, however, Welch's poetry was beginning to meet with some success. Donald Allen included one of Welch's poems in The New American Poetry -- the important anthology published in 1960. That same year Welch's first book, Wobbly Rock, was published. He was drinking heavily during this time, but he continued to write extensively. For a time he lived with his mother in Reno, Nevada, and then in a cabin in the Trinity Alps. He moved back to San Francisco in 1963, and in 1965 published three books.

In 1965 Welch began teaching a poetry workshop offered through the Extension program of the University of California at Berkeley. Despite his burgeoning success, Welch's bouts with depression and heavy drinking continued. After the breakup of another relationship in 1971 Welch returned to the mountains. On 23 May 1971, Gary Snyder went up to Welch's campsite and found a suicide note in Welch's truck. Despite an extensive search, Welch's body was never recovered.

From the guide to the Lew Welch Papers, 1943-1971, (University of California, San Diego. Geisel Library. Mandeville Special Collections Library.)

Important member of the West Coast Beat poetry community. Born 16 August 1926 in Phoenix, Arizona.

Grew up in California, graduated from Reed College in Portland, Oregon in 1950, and later lived in Northern California and elsewhere. Died in 1971.

From the description of Papers, 1943-1971. (University of California, San Diego). WorldCat record id: 18726500

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Welch, Lew. Lew Welch at the Unicorn Bookshop [sound recording] : Isla Vista, Calif., 1967. UC Berkeley Libraries
referencedIn Larry Eigner Papers., 1950-1979. Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Center.
referencedIn Gary Snyder Papers, 1910-2003;, (1945-2002 bulk) University of California, Davis. General Library. . Dept. of Special Collections
referencedIn Daisy Aldan Papers TXRC94-A18., 1946-1966 Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
creatorOf Saroyan, Aram. Aram Saroyan papers, 1974-1977. University of Connecticut, Homer Babbidge Library
referencedIn Poetry mss., 1954-2002 Lilly Library (Indiana University, Bloomington)
creatorOf Aldan, Daisy. Papers, 1946-1966. Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
creatorOf Allen, Donald, 1912-2004. Donald Allen collection, 1930-2005. University of California, San Diego, UC San Diego Library; UCSD Library
creatorOf Palmer, Doug. Doug Palmer papers, 1952-1974. UC Berkeley Libraries
referencedIn Hatch, Jim,. Lew Welch, Wobbly Rock, Muir Beach [graphic]. UC Berkeley Libraries
creatorOf Shoemaker, Jack, 1946-. Jack Shoemaker, David Meltzer and Lew Welch [sound recording] : at the Isla Vista Episcopal Church, a Unicorn reading, 1969 April 7. UC Berkeley Libraries
referencedIn Donald Allen Collection, 1930-2005 Mandeville Special Collections Library
creatorOf Brandi, John. Maya benefit reading [sound recording] : Berkeley, Calif., 1970 Apr. 2. UC Berkeley Libraries
referencedIn Arthur Twining Hadley, president of Yale University, records, 1899-1921 Yale University. Department of Manuscripts and Archives
referencedIn Lavigne, Robert. Robert Lavigne papers, 1954-1969. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
referencedIn Ann Charters Papers., 1966-1982. Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Center.
referencedIn Allen Ginsberg papers, 1937-1994 Stanford University. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
referencedIn Oyez Press Records., 1963-1987. Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Center.
referencedIn Allen, Donald, 1912-2004. Unpublished anthology of the San Francisco Renaissance, ca. 1965. Stanford University. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
referencedIn Ginsberg, Allen, 1926-1997. Allen Ginsberg papers, 1937-1994. Stanford University. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
creatorOf Lew Welch Papers, 1943-1971 University of California, San Diego. Geisel Library. Mandeville Special Collections Library.
creatorOf Welch, Lew. Papers, 1943-1971. University of California, San Diego, UC San Diego Library; UCSD Library
creatorOf Schaff, David. Poetry and correspondence relating to the publication of Cassiopeia and Ephemeris, 1964-1974. UC Berkeley Libraries
referencedIn Charles Upton Papers., undated, 1932-2002 (bulk, 1966-2002). Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Center.
referencedIn Snyder, Gary, 1930-. Papers, 1910-2003 1945-2002. University of California, Davis, Shields Library
creatorOf Welch, Lew. Planning and Conservation League reading [sound recording] : San Francisco, California, 30 June 1969. UC Berkeley Libraries
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Aldan, Daisy person
associatedWith Allen, Donald, 1912-2004. person
correspondedWith Allen, Donald Merriam, 1912- person
correspondedWith Brautigan, Richard person
associatedWith Brautigan, Richard, person
correspondedWith Brownfield, Dorothy person
associatedWith Brownfield, Dorothy, person
associatedWith Charters, Ann. person
correspondedWith Doyle, Kirby person
associatedWith Doyle, Kirby, person
correspondedWith Eigner, Larry, 1927- person
associatedWith Ginsberg, Allen, 1926-1997 person
associatedWith Ginsberg, Allen, 1926-1997. person
associatedWith Hatch, Jim, person
associatedWith Kandel, Lenore, 1932-2009 person
associatedWith Lavigne, Robert. person
associatedWith Modern Poetry Association corporateBody
correspondedWith Moore, Marianne, 1887-1972 person
associatedWith Moore, Marianne, 1887-1972, person
associatedWith Oyez Press corporateBody
associatedWith Palmer, Doug. person
associatedWith Saroyan, Aram. person
associatedWith Schaff, David. person
correspondedWith Snyder, Gary person
associatedWith Snyder, Gary, 1930- person
correspondedWith Snyder, Gary, 1930- person
associatedWith Upton, Charles person
correspondedWith Upton, Charles, 1948- person
associatedWith Upton, Charles, 1948- person
correspondedWith Whalen, Philip person
associatedWith Whalen, Philip, person
associatedWith Yale University. President's Office. corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
American poetry


Birth 1926-08-16

Death 1971




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