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William Benton collection of Ronald Johnson correspondence and poetry

Call Number: MS 289


This collection consists mostly of letters from concrete poet Ronald Johnson to friend and fellow writer William Benton. Also included are several parts to Johnson's life work, an epic poem called "Ark." Many of the letters contain personal correspondence between Johnson and Benton regarding each other's writings and Johnson's struggles as an artist.


  • 1970 - 1997


Conditions Governing Use

No access restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Spencer Library staff may determine use restrictions dependent on the physical condition of manuscript materials.

Biography of William Benton

William Benton received his early training in music and worked as a jazz musician before becoming a writer. He is the author of several books of poetry, including Marmalade, with drawings by James McGarrell (George Adams Gallery Press, New York, 1997), Normal Meanings (Deer Crossing Press, Paducah, 1978), Eye La View (Capra Press, Santa Barbara, 1975), and The Bell Poems (Riverrun Press, New York, 1970).

His poetry has been published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Open City and other magazines. He is also the author of Exchanging Hats: Elizabeth Bishop Paintings (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1996), which was selected by the New York Times Book Review as number two in the top-ten list of art books for that year.

Other recent books are Birds and Deaf Elephants, (Pomegranate Press, San Francisco, 2002), and Gods of Tin, as editor, (Shoemaker and Hoard, 2004). He has lectured on both art and literature at numerous universities, and served for three years as Dean of the Museum Art School (now Pacific Northwest College of Art), Portland, Oregon. He is also the author of Close to the Sun, a musical play, for which he wrote book, lyrics, and music. Shoemaker and Hoard published his novel, Madly, in 2005. He lives in New York City.

Biography of Ronald Johnson

Ronald Johnson was born in Ashland, Kansas on November 25, 1935 to A.T. and Helen (Mayse) Johnson (1910-1993). He spent some time at the University of Kansas, beginning his studies there in 1953 and completing his freshman year, before performing two years of national service in the Army in Georgia, Arizona, and California. He completed his Bachelor of Arts in 1960 at Columbia University.

In 1964, Johnson published his first collection of poetry, A Line of Poetry, A Row of Trees. He would go on to publish numerous poetry collections, including The Book of the Green Man (1967) and Radi os (1977), an erasure poem Johnson created by excising text from the first four books of John Milton's Paradise Lost. The complete version of Johnson's long poem ARK was published in 1996 by Living Batch Press; ARK is divided into three books, each containing 33 sections.

Johnson also published several cookbooks, including The Aficionado's Southwestern Cooking (1968), The American Table (1983), and Southwestern Cooking: New and Old (1985).

Johnson lived much of his adult life in San Francisco, employed at various occupations to support himself, including bartender, chef, and caterer. During his career he held several guest professorships at universities, including the University of Kentucky and the University of Washington.

Ronald Johnson died March 4, 1998 in Topeka, Kansas at the age of 62. Posthumously, Johnson's literary executor Peter O'Leary published To Do as Adam Did, Selected Poems of Ronald Johnson (2000), The Shurbberies (2001), and a new edition of Radi Os (2005).


.5 Linear Feet (1 document case)

Physical Location

MS 289

Related Materials

Ronald Johnson papers, MS 66, Department of Special Collections, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Ronald Johnson collection (Literary estate papers), MS 336, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Processing Information

This collection was originally held in two binders with material sorted into plastic, protective sleeves. All material has been removed and foldered as it was separated into sleeves. Date information has been placed on the folder for each letter in "()" when included from the letter and year has been included in "[ ]" from the mailing envelope's post-mark stamp, where available.


Guide to the William Benton Collection of Ronald Johnson Correspondence and Poetry
William Benton collection of Ronald Johnson correspondence and poetry
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Preferred citation
William Benton collection of Ronald Johnson correspondence and poetry, Department of Special Collections, MS 289, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Repository Details

Part of the University of Kansas. Kenneth Spencer Research Library Repository

1450 Poplar Lane
Lawrence KS 66045-7616 United States