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May Swenson and Elizabeth Bishop Correspondence

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Born in Logan, Utah on May 28, 1913, Anna Thilda May Swenson, later known only as May for her birth month, began writing early in her life and continued her passion for writing by being active in The Scribble at Utah State University, where she completed a bachelor of science degree in 1934. Shortly thereafter, Swenson moved to New York City, where she would futher develop her craft while paying her bills by working odd jobs, including condensing and editing the autobiography of Anzia Yezierska a Polish Jew perhaps most well-known for her novel Bread Givers. Along with Yezierska and many other authors, Swenson survived the Great Depression by working for the Federal Writers' Project. While in New York, May lived in Greenwich Village, eventually moving to an apartment on Perry Street.

Having chosen the life of an author and in order to continue her craft, in 1950, Swenson went to Yaddo, an artists' colony in Saratoga Springs, New York. While there, she met Elizabeth Bishop. The two mid-twentieth century American poets began to exchange letters at that time, a correspondence that lasted until Bishop's death in 1979. Washington University Special Collections houses 267 of these letters, only a select few, mostly pertaining to the co-authoring of "Dear Elizabeth," are available here.


Selected Images and Transcriptions of Correspondence between May Swenson and Elizabeth Bishop

Page one of a letter dated June 4, 1958 from Elizabeth Bishop to May Swenson in which Bishop critiques Swenson's poetry.
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Page two of a letter dated June 4, 1958 from Elizabeth Bishop to May Swenson in which Bishop critiques Swenson's poetry.
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Page three of a letter dated June 4, 1958 from Elizabeth Bishop to May Swenson in which Bishop critiques Swenson's poetry.
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Page four of a letter dated June 4, 1958 from Elizabeth Bishop to May Swenson in which Bishop critiques Swenson's poetry.
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Letter dated August 27, 1963 from Elizabeth Bishop to May Swenson in which Bishop describes her new pet birds, the "Bica Lacquas."
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Page one of a letter dated September 25, 1963 from May Swenson to Elizabeth Bishop telling Bishop that she is writing a poem about her birds.
Page one of a letter dated October 3, 1963 from Elizabeth Bishop to May Swenson in which Bishop further discusses "our bird poem."
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Page two of a letter dated October 3, 1963 from Elizabeth Bishop to May Swenson in which Bishop further discusses "our bird poem."
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Page three of a letter dated October 3, 1963 from Elizabeth Bishop to May Swenson in which Bishop further discusses "our bird poem."
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Letter dated October 12, 1963 from Elizabeth Bishop to May Swenson with "more about the Bicos de Lacre."
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Page one of a letter dated October 31, 1963 from May Swenson to Elizabeth Bishop asking for clarification about the Bicos de Lacre.
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Page two of a letter dated October 31, 1963 from May Swenson to Elizabeth Bishop asking for clarification about the Bicos de Lacre.
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Page three of a letter dated October 31, 1963 from May Swenson to Elizabeth Bishop asking for clarification about the Bicos de Lacre.
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Page one of a letter dated November 11, 1963 from Elizabeth Bishop to May Swenson in which Bishop clarifies information about the Bicos de Lacre.
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Page two of a letter dated November 11, 1963 from Elizabeth Bishop to May Swenson in which Bishop clarifies information about the Bicos de Lacre.
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Image that accompanied the letter dated November 11, 1963 from Elizabeth Bishop to May Swenson demonstrating where Bishop lives.
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Page one of a letter dated March 9, 1964 from Elizabeth Bishop to May Swenson in which Bishop further describes "Bicos de Lacre."
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Page two of a letter dated March 9, 1964 from Elizabeth Bishop to May Swenson in which Bishop further describes "Bicos de Lacre."
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Letter dated March 11, 1964 from Elizabeth Bishop to May Swenson in which Bishop mentions obtaining more "Bicos de Lacre."
Page one of a letter dated June 30, 1965 from May Swenson to Elizabeth Bishop in which Swenson asks permission to publish "Dear Elizabeth."
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Page two of a letter dated June 30, 1965 from from May Swenson to Elizabeth Bishop in which Swenson asks permission to publish "Dear Elizabeth."
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Letter dated July 5, 1965 from Elizabeth Bishop to May Swenson discussing the subtitle of "Dear Elizabeth."
Page one of a letter dated November 6, 1965 from May Swenson to Elizabeth Bishop asking about Bishop's reception of "Dear Elizabeth."
Page two of a letter dated November 6, 1965 from May Swenson to Elizabeth Bishop asking about Bishop's reception of "Dear Elizabeth."
Page three of a letter dated November 6, 1965 from May Swenson to Elizabeth Bishop asking about Bishop's reception of "Dear Elizabeth."
Page four of a letter dated November 6, 1965 from May Swenson to Elizabeth Bishop asking about Bishop's reception of "Dear Elizabeth."
Page five of a letter dated November 6, 1965 from May Swenson to Elizabeth Bishop asking about Bishop's reception of "Dear Elizabeth."
Page six of a letter dated November 6, 1965 from May Swenson to Elizabeth Bishop asking about Bishop's reception of "Dear Elizabeth."
Page one of a letter dated November 10, 1965 from Elizabeth Bishop to May Swenson discussing her reception of "Dear Elizabeth."
Page two of a letter dated November 10, 1965 from Elizabeth Bishop to May Swenson discussing her reception of "Dear Elizabeth."