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Ronald Johnson papers

Call Number: MS 66


This collection of Ashland, Kansas native Ronald Johnson's papers reflects his literary and professional writing activities, containing poetry, galley proofs of poetry books, recipes, and proofs for cookbooks. It also contains personal letters from friends, including poet Jonathan Williams and artist Ian Hamilton Finlay.


  • Creation: 1954 - 1993


Conditions Governing Access

No access restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

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

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 Shrubberies (2001), and a new edition of Radi os (2005).


13 Linear Feet (29 boxes)

Language of Materials


Scope and Contents

The Ronald Johnson papers date from 1954 to 1993 and are arranged in two series, Professional writing and Letters. Professional writing is the largest portion of the collection at 8.5 linear feet (19 boxes). It contains poems as well as galley and printers proofs for several poetry collections, including The Book of the Green Man (Norton, 1967), Valley of the Many-Colored Grasses (Norton, 1969), and Ark (Living Batch Press, 1996), Johnson's epic poem. It also contains proofs for two different cookbooks that Johnson authored, as well as additional recipes.

The Letters series consists of 4.5 linear feet (10 boxes) and contains personal letters from friends such as poet Jonathan Williams and artist Ian Hamilton Finlay, as well as other writing colleagues. This series has been sub-divided into four series by correspondent; Jonathan Williams, Guy Davenport, and Ian Finlay Hamilton each have a sub-series, and then there is a large sub-series of general correspondence.

Series List

The Ronald Johnson papers date from approximately 1954 to 1986 and are arranged in two series. Within the Letters series are four subseries, based upon correspondent with whom Johnson was writing.

<unittitle>Professional writing, <unitdate>1954-1986</unitdate> </unittitle>
Comprised of poetry for collections of poetry. It also includes recipes and galley proofs for a number of cookbooks. Sub-series are by publication.
<unittitle>Letters, <unitdate>1954-1986</unitdate> </unittitle>
Comprised of letters to Ronald Johnson and includes enclosed poems, announcements, and postcards.

Physical Location

MS 66

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchases, Ronald Johnson, 1969, 1971; Sand Dollar Books, 1987.

Related Materials

Ronald Johnson Literary Estate Collection, MS 336, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Robert Johnson holograph books, MS D214, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Guide to the Ronald Johnson Collection
Ronald Johnson papers
Finding aid prepared by alh, 1969. Finding aid encoded by skt, 2008. Finding aid revised by mwh, 2017, 2022.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Finding aid written in English.
Finding aid permalink
Preferred citation
Ronald Johnson Collection, Department of Special Collections, MS 66, 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