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The humorist, journalist, novelist and playwright Don Marquis (1878-1937) was friends with many visitors to Frank Shay's bookshop; this may be why he signed the door twice, once on the front and once on the back. Born in Illinois, Marquis worked for newspapers in several cities before reaching New York in 1909. In 1912 he began work at the Evening Sun and achieved his dream of becoming a daily newspaper columnist. In 1916, he began writing columns in the voice of his most enduring character, a free-verse poet reincarnated as a cockroach named Archy. Among his other characters were Hermione, a ditzy bohemian in Greenwich Village and The Old Soak, a cheerful drunk suffering through Prohibition. In 1922, Marquis left the Sun for the New York Tribune, and continued in the newspaper business for a few more years. Marquis's combination of light humor, sharp social critique, and linguistic acrobatics made him very popular in his day and widely admired by his literary contemporaries.
Don Marquis's and Archy's inscriptions to Christopher Morley in a copy of Don Marquis's The Life and Times of Archy and Mehitabel (New York: Doubleday, Doran, 1933)
Archy's earnest lower-case, free-verse poems, composed as he jumped from key to key on Marquis's typewriter late at night, are the venue for Marquis's incisive critiques of the excesses of experimental poetry and contemporary culture more generally. Many of the columns tell of Archy's time spent with his alley-cat friend Mehitabel, who claimed that she was reincarnated from Cleopatra. The inscriptions in this book, one of several collections of Archy columns, symbolize the deep and long-lasting friendship between Marquis and Morley. As far as we know, this is the only book at the Ransom Center inscribed by an insect.