Wilson, Robert A. (Robert Alfred), 1922-

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Robert A. Wilson, playwright.

From the description of Mother: typescript, 1963 September. (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 122596864

Robert A. Wilson was the third proprietor of the Phoenix Bookshop from 1962 to 1988. A great lover of literature, he not only sponsored new writers but collected rare books and manuscripts and published the work of many writers of his day.

From the guide to the Robert A. Wilson slides, 1956-1969, (The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.)

Wilson, Robert A. Seeing Shelley Plain. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Books, 2001. Raymond Foye, "John Wieners," Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 16. The Beats: Literary Bohemians in Postwar America. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1983. pp. 572-583. "John Wieners." Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2007. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale. 2007. http://galenet.galegroup.com (Retrieved 2007 March 4)

American poet John Wieners (1934-2002) is identified with both the Black Mountain School as well as the Beats. His poetry contains themes of drug abuse and mental illness, as well as a concern for women's rights, gay rights, and other social issues.

Wieners was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1934. He received his A.B. from Boston College in 1954. With encouragement from poet Charles Olson (1910-1970), Wieners attended Black Mountain College in North Carolina from 1955-1956, where he studied writing with poets Robert Creeley (1926-2005) and Robert Duncan (1919-1988). Wieners is also identified with the American Beat poets, having spent time in San Francisco at the height of the movement in the late 1950s. Wieners's first collection of poems, The Hotel Wentley Poems (1958), was written in San Francisco and became an instant sensation with the Beats.

In 1961, Wieners moved to New York City with aid from Allen Ginsberg's Poetry Foundation and returned to Boston in 1964. His interaction with Robert Wilson of The Phoenix Book Shop brought about the publication by Wilson and James Carr of Wieners's second collection, Ace of Pentacles (1964), a volume that received much positive critical attention. Wieners studied with his mentor Charles Olson at SUNY Buffalo from 1965 until 1967, during which time he wrote and published Pressed Wafer (1967).

Struggles with substance abuse and mental anguish over the course of his life led to periods of institutionalization for Wieners in 1959, 1969, and at various times in the early 1970s. Yet Wieners continued to write and publish, gaining insight and inspiration from those difficult times, and the early 1970s was a prolific time for Wieners. During his time at an institution in 1969, Wieners composed Asylum Poems (1969). 1970 saw the publication of Nerves, Wieners's first international volume. Wieners was also very active in promoting political causes, taking part in the antiwar movement, speaking out against racism, and campaigning for gay and women's rights. Cincinnati Pike, Or Behind the State Capitol (1975) was another landmark piece for Wieners, and combines a wide variety of media and poetic forms.

Wieners published little new work since 1975 and remained largely out of the public eye. In 1986, he produced a retrospective collection, Selected Poems, 1958-1984, edited by Raymond Foye and with a forward written by Allen Ginsberg. In 1996, Wieners's previously unpublished journal by was published in an edited form by The Sun and Moon Press; the volume documents his life in San Francisco around the time of The Hotel Wentley Poems . The book, The Journal of John Wieners is to be called 707 Scott Street for Billie Holiday, 1959, contains Wieners's prose, poetry, and various impressions of the creative atmosphere in San Francisco at the onset of the 1960s.

Wieners died on March 1, 2002, in Boston, Massachusetts.

Bibliographer, author, and bookseller Robert A. Wilson was the proprietor of The Phoenix Book Shop, a renowned New York book shop and center of literary activity, particularly associated with writers of the Black Mountain School and the American Beat poets, from 1962 until it closed in 1988.

As the proprietor of The Phoenix Book Shop, Wilson interacted and was friends with many authors whose work he sold, printed, and later collected. Wilson provided encouragement and support, both artistic and financial, to many of the authors who frequented his shop and with whom he formed lifelong friendships.

In addition to selling books by the avant-garde and contemporary writers of the 1950s and 1960s, Wilson also published works out of The Phoenix, including his own bibliographies of some of those writers, Christmas keepsakes, and collections of poetry by authors such as Marianne Moore, Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, and Diane di Prima. The first work published by Wilson and his colleague James Carr was John Wieners’s Ace of Pentacles (1964).

In 1997, several authors came together to pay tribute to Wilson and The Phoenix with the book The Phoenix Book Shop: a Nest of Memories, and in 2001, Wilson published a memoir of his twenty-six-year run as the owner of The Phoenix, titled Seeing Shelley Plain: Memories of New York's Legendary Phoenix Book Shop .

From the guide to the Robert A. Wilson John Wieners collection, 1958-1988, (University of Delaware Library - Special Collections)

The American bibliographer, bookseller, and collector Robert A. Wilson was born in 1922. For many struggling writers and poets of the latter half of the twentieth century, Wilson was a familiar presence. As the third proprietor of the Phoenix Book Shop in New York City, Wilson provided both encouragement and financial support to many writers. Wilson bought the Phoenix Book Shop in March 1962, which he maintained at 18 Cornelia Street in Greenwich Village until 1975, when he moved the shop around the corner to 22 Jones Street, finally closing its doors in mid-October 1988.

The Phoenix Book Shop was known for its selection of books by the avant-garde and contemporary writers of the 1950s and 1960s, stocking works by Edward Albee, William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Michael McClure. Wilson's shop also specialized in modern first editions and literary manuscripts of writers such as W.H. Auden, Marianne Moore, Laura Riding, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, and Dylan Thomas.

Through the bookshop, Wilson published the work of many notable writers, including Gertrude Stein, Marianne Moore, W.H. Auden, Allen Ginsberg, Elizabeth Bishop, and Richard Wilbur. During his twenty-six year tenure as the proprietor of the Phoenix, Wilson oversaw the publication of no less than forty-three volumes. Wilson himself was the author of bibliographies of Gregory Corso (1966), Denise Levertov (1972), and Gertrude Stein (1974, revised 1994), and works on the book trade and book collecting, such as Faulkner on Fire Island (1979) and Modern Book Collecting (1980), The Phoenix Book Shop: a Nest of Memories (1997), and Seeing Shelley Plain (2001).

Biographical information about the authors represented in this collection was obtained from the following sources: Carol Bergé. Biography Resource Center. http://galenet.galegroup.com (accessed 15 March 2007). [Individual author entries]. Contemporary Authors Online reproduced in Literature Resource Center. http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/LitRC. Reed, Kenneth T. "Capote, Truman." American National Biography Online. February 2000. http://www.anb.org (accessed March, 23 2007) Wilson, Robert A. Seeing Shelley Plain. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Books, 2001. Additional information derived from the collection.

From the guide to the Robert A. Wilson collection, 1906-2011, (University of Delaware Library - Special Collections)

Metzger, Linda, Ed. Contemporary Authors. New Revision Series, Volume 19. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1984. pp.389-395. Wilson, Robert A. et al. Phoenix Bookshop: A Nest of Memories. Candia, NH: John LeBow, 1997.

Born in Ohio on July 17, 1923, James Purdy is one of the United States’ most prolific, yet little known writers. A novelist, poet, playwright and amateur artist, Purdy has published over fifty volumes. He received his education at the University of Chicago and the University of Peubla in Mexico. In addition to writing, Purdy also has served as an interpreter in Latin America, France, and Spain, and spent a year lecturing in Europe with the United States Information Agency (1982).

From the outset of his writing career, Purdy has had difficulties attracting the attention of both publishers and critics. His first several short stories were rejected by every magazine to which he sent them, and he was forced to sign with a private publisher for his first two books, 63: Dream Palace and Don’t Call Me by My Right Name and Other Stories, both published in 1956. Hoping to increase his readership, Purdy sent copies of these first two books to writers he admired, including English poet Dame Edith Sitwell. Sitwell raved about Purdy’s work and helped convince an English publisher, Gollancz, to publish and distribute Purdy’s books in England. Purdy’s writing was introduced in the United States a year later when his previous books were published together in one volume, Color of Darkness: Eleven Stories and a Novella (1957).

Most of Purdy’s work has been the subject of mixed critical response. While some, like Sitwell and book dealer Robert A.Wilson, appreciate the artistry of Purdy’s work, many American publishers and critics regard his work as too daring and risque. In a 1990 letter to Wilson, Purdy wrote, “Dame Edith Sitwell once told me I was the wrong color, race, religion, and talent ever to be accepted by the New York Establishment. I didn’t understand quite the full meaning of her words at the time. Now I do. I want to leave the US eventually and never come back. But I haven’t earned enough money to live here, let alone depart” (F3). Many of Purdy’s letters reflect this frustration.

Despite his lack of commercial popularity in the United States, Purdy is not entirely without critical success. He won a National Institute of Arts and Letters grant in literature in 1958, followed by Guggenheim fellowships in both 1958 and 1962. Purdy is also the recipient of a Rockefeller grant, a Ford Foundation Grant (1961), and a P.E.N.-Faulkner Award nomination in 1985 for On Glory’s Course . Most recently, he was awarded a Morten Dauwen Zabel Fiction award from the Academy of Arts and Letters (1993).

Though Purdy has had much critical and commercial success abroad particularly in the Netherlands, he struggled to increase his readership in the United States. As he lamented in a 1988 letter to Wilson, “The good thing about the Dutch for me is they are very enthusiastic about my work while the American publishers seem to do everything in their power along with the New York Times to starve me to death.” (F3).

For many struggling writers and poets of the latter half of the twentieth century, Robert A. Wilson was a familiar and comforting presence. As the third proprietor of the Phoenix Bookshop in New York City from 1962 to 1988, Wilson provided both encouragement and financial support to beginning writers. A great lover of literature, Wilson specialized in rare books and manuscripts and shipped his material to enthusiastic readers in all parts of the world.

Through the bookshop, Wilson published the work of many notable writers, including Gertrude Stein, Marianne Moore, W.H. Auden, Allen Ginsberg, Elizabeth Bishop, and Richard Wilbur. During his twenty-six year tenure as the proprietor of the Phoenix, Wilson oversaw the publication of no less than 43 volumes.

An avid collector of rare books and manuscripts for his own personal collection, Wilson himself is the author of more than a dozen volumes, many of which he published on a mimeograph machine in the back room of the Phoenix. Among these are Auden’s Library (1975); Marianne Serves Lunch (1976); Robert Haggard’s “She” (1977), which Purdy praises in his December 9, 1977 letter to Wilson (F1); Faulkner on Fire Island (1979); and Tea With Alice (1978), an interview with his friend, Alice Toklas.

In 1988, financial difficulties forced Wilson to close the doors forever, thereby ending the Phoenix’s fifty-six year history.

Despite a minor misunderstanding over the price of a rare volume of Purdy’s Are You in the Winter Tree translated into Dutch, the collection seems to indicate that Wilson and Purdy are longtime friends. Wilson was, and by all accounts still is, a great admirer of Purdy’s work as evidenced by his diverse collection of Purdy’s manuscripts, published work, and ephemera.

From the guide to the Robert A. Wilson collection related to James Purdy, 1956–1998, (University of Delaware Library - Special Collections)

Robert Wilson was born in Baltimore in 1922. He graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 1943, and served in the US Army in Germany during World War II. After the war, he joined the US Diplomatic Corp, serving in Warsaw and Pretoria. He later tried his hand on Broadway.

In 1962 he became the fifth owner of the Phoenix Bookshop in Greenwich Village in New York, which he ran until its closing in 1988. He retired to the Eastern Shore of Maryland. His books include Seeing Shelley Plain: Memories of the Legendary Phoenix Bookshop, Gertrude Stein: A Bibliography, and Modern Book Collecting.

From the description of Papers, 1961-2005. (Johns Hopkins University). WorldCat record id: 320349360

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Kresch, Albert, 1922-. Albert Kresch collection, 1967-1981. Johns Hopkins University, Sheridan Libraries and the Milton S. Eisenhower Library
creatorOf Di Prima, Diane. Snapshot of Allen Ginsberg, ca. 1952. Stanford University. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
creatorOf Wilson, Robert A. (Robert Alfred), 1922-. Papers, 1961-2005. Johns Hopkins University, Sheridan Libraries and the Milton S. Eisenhower Library
referencedIn Mitchell Goodman letters to Robert Wilson, 1962 University of Delaware Library - Special Collections
creatorOf Robert A. Wilson John Wieners collection, 1958-1988 University of Delaware Library - Special Collections
creatorOf Robert A. Wilson slides, 1956-1969 The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.
referencedIn McClure, Michael. Michael McClure letter, [manuscript], [1964?] Indiana University
creatorOf Wilson, Robert A. Mother: typescript, 1963 September. New York Public Library System, NYPL
creatorOf Wilson, Robert A. Miscellaneous papers. Jacksonville University, Carl S. Swisher Library
referencedIn Phoenix Book Shop. Records, 1951-1989. Indiana University
creatorOf Robert A. Wilson collection, 1906-2011 University of Delaware Library - Special Collections
creatorOf Robert A. Wilson collection related to James Purdy, 1956–1998 University of Delaware Library - Special Collections
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
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correspondedWith Goodman, Mitchell person
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correspondedWith Kresch, Albert, 1922- person
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correspondedWith McClure, Michael. person
associatedWith McClure, Michael. person
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associatedWith Violett, Ellen person
associatedWith Wakoski, Diane. person
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associatedWith Wieners, John, 1934-2002 person
correspondedWith Williams, Jonathan, 1929-2008 person
associatedWith Williams, Tennessee, 1911-1983 person
associatedWith Wilson, Lanford, 1937- person
associatedWith Windham, Donald, 1920-2010 person
associatedWith Wright, Robert Craig, 1914- person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Authors, American
Poets, American
Beat generation
Beat generation
Dramatists, American
Authors, American


Birth 1922




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