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Ronald Johnson collection (Literary estate papers)

Call Number: MS 336


This collection consists of the papers of Ronald Johnson, as held by his literary estate. It contains drafts and worksheets for various poetry and prose works by Ronald Johnson including ARK, The Shrubberies, Company Fare, and others. The collection also includes correspondence between Johnson and his acquaintances, including notably Guy Davenport, Charles Simic, Dirk Stratton, Jonathan Williams, and Peter O'Leary (Johnson's friend and literary executor), along with many others. Other materials include photographs, slides, and negatives, predominately of Johnson; materials related to Johnson's professional life, including reviews of his work; and catering and resume materials.


  • Creation: 1950 - 2007


Conditions Governing Access

No access restrictions.

Audio visual materials are stored in the KU Annex off-site storage area.

All researchers interested in reviewing this material must consult Spencer Research Library Public Services staff (785-864-4334 or, 9-5 M-F CST) before a planned visit; staff will respond within three days, though materials may not be available in that timeframe. Access to audio visual materials may require digitization first. Be advised that drop-in requests for this material cannot be accommodated.

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).


8.25 Linear Feet (19 document cases + 1 box, 1 oversize box, 1 oversize folder, 17 audiovisual items)

Language of Materials


Scope and Contents

This collection of Ronald Johnson manuscripts, correspondence, and other materials was acquired by the Spencer Research Library after his death via his literary executor, Peter O'Leary. The collection also includes materials documenting O'Leary's posthumous editing of works by Johnson. Because of these distinctions, these materials have been described separately from the original collection of Ronald Johnson materials held at the Spencer Research Library, acquired from Johnson before his death.

This collection has been arranged into four series: Correspondence, Works, Professional materials, and Visual materials. The Works series has been further divided into several sub-series for specific longer literary works by Johnson, cookbooks he wrote, and for other shorter and/or unpublished writings. Visual materials have been sub-divided by format for photographs, negatives, and slides. Oversize materials, located at MS Qa21 and MS R18, have been described at the end of each appropriate series or sub-series.

The bulk of the collection consists of incoming correspondence from Johnson's friends and literary colleagues, as well as manuscripts drafts and related materials concerning Johnson's writing endeavors. This includes documentation of Peter O'Leary's work to edit and posthumously publish and reprint works by Johnson.

This finding aid draws on the original inventory listing of Thomas Wood, formerly of James S. Jaffe Rare Books LLC, ABAA.

Physical Location

MS 336

Physical Location

MS Qa21

Physical Location

MS R18

Physical Location

SC AV 15

Physical Location

SC AV 16

Physical Location

SC AV 17

Physical Location

A/V items at Annex (Contact Spencer Library Public Services)

Physical Location

MS B183

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchase, James S. Jaffe Rare Books LLC, ABAA, March 2013.

Related Materials

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

Ronald Johnson Holograph Books, MS D214, Special Collections, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries.

Separated Materials

Several monographs and periodicals have been removed from this collection to be cataloged separately at Spencer Research Library.

Guide to Ronald Johnson's Literary Estate Collection
Ronald Johnson collection (Literary estate papers)
Finding aid prepared by tmw, 2017. Finding aid encoded by tmw, 2017. Finding aid revised by eh, 2017; mwh, 2018, 2022.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Finding aid written in English.
Finding aid permalink
Preferred citation
Ronald Johnson collection (Literary estate papers), MS 336, 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