Former poet laureate donates personal archive to Watzek

In October, Lewis & Clark Special Collections and Archives welcomed an exciting new addition when poet and essayist Kim Stafford donated his personal archive of nearly 50 years.

Stafford was Oregon’s ninth poet laureate, the founding director of Lewis & Clark’s Northwest Writing Institute and a professor at LC. The Stafford family has a longstanding relationship with the college. Head of Watzek Library Special Collections and College Archivist Hannah Crummé explained that this relationship was part of the reason Stafford wanted the collection to be housed at LC.

“As Kim would say, the Staffords have worked here for half the history of the college,” Crummé said.

William Stafford, iconic poet and pacifist, was Kim Stafford’s father. Like his son, the elder Stafford taught at LC and his archive was also donated by his family to the college in 2008. In an interview with LC’s Newsroom, Kim Stafford explained the logic behind his decision. 

“I’ve been a part of Lewis & Clark since 1949, the year I was born. My family and I lived on SW Palatine Hill Road while our dad taught at the college. So isn’t it destiny that my father’s writings and mine should live here together?” Stafford said. “A library is a home for the past, but I like to think an archive is a home for the future — a place where ideas, both formed and half-formed, might seed new thoughts and new worlds.”

The archive features a diverse array of items. Beyond Stafford’s poetry, essays and prose, the archive also includes his journals, books he published or was featured in, publications, news articles, films, audio recitations, documents about his teaching, handwritten letters and more.

One of the many fascinating things in this archive, according to Crummé, are Stafford’s writing journals, which are handbound by the writer himself.

“Kim makes his own little notebooks that he does his daily writings in, so those are visually quite appealing and give a sense of the holistic nature of poetry for him, in the sense that he’s been involved in creating the artifact down to the level of the notebook itself,” Crummé said. “So he’s not just creating the poem, he’s creating the book in which it’s written.”

Liam Conley ’23, a student worker on the team that is processing the archive, has worked in archives since his first year at LC. Conley found himself fascinated by the consistency and sheer number of the poet’s writings. Some years, Stafford wrote every single day, leaving the student workers with hundreds of papers to sort through. For example, Stafford’s daily writings from the year 1998 are the most extensive, at 3-4 inches thick in their folder.

For many, the work that goes into archives is foreign. Perhaps to some, the word “archive” simply evokes an image of a dusty old box and aged academics sorting books in the basement of Watzek. In reality, the process of working with archives is a complex and codified process, often digital and much more accessible than their earlier counterparts. Conley explained the process step by step.

“A lot of what we’re doing is going through these boxes that they’ve given us, these documents or books … and inputting them into spreadsheets, which is what we then use to translate into a software called Archives West and ArchivesSpace, which is how people access the document,” Conley said. “So … when they do come here they can get a physical copy and know exactly what they need.” 

In processing an archive, students are essentially creating a lengthy table of contents. That way, people interested in viewing actually know what box to request.

More popular collections get their own digitized version on Watzek’s Special Collections website. William Stafford’s archives, for example, have their own webpage. Crummé says they hope to do the same for the Kim Stafford archive, but it is a lengthy process. So far, they predict that it will be fully accessible in its physical form sometime during the Fall 2022 semester.

According to Crummé, archives provide an important insight into the thoughts and ideals of people from the past. Crummé gives the example of Shakespeare, whose drafts and other personal writings are lost to time. Had people at the time recognized the importance of keeping such documents, we would have access to priceless work from the great playwright today.

“It’s important to keep a range of people’s writings to demonstrate what the culture was like and to demonstrate what the intellectual process was like, to demonstrate how people were thinking and feeling in Oregon at this time,” Crummé said.

Besides the potential future value, there is current value as well. For one, Special Collections hopes to host an exhibition related to Stafford’s work soon. Students may also benefit from seeing the writing process play out in Kim Staffords writings, from the drafting stage to publication. Perhaps they too may feel inspired to write. 

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