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University of Texas at Austin

Billy Collins:

An Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Collins, Billy
Title: Billy Collins Papers
Dates: 1935-2013 (bulk 1962-2013)
Extent: 101 document boxes, 2 oversize boxes (osb) (41.24 linear feet), 15 oversize folders (osf), 4 computer disks, 1 laptop computer
Abstract: The papers of American poet Billy Collins date from 1935 to 2013 (bulk 1962-2013) and include notebooks, drafts (including electronic files), proofs, clippings, tearsheets, reviews, royalty statements, and agreements relating to his poetry, essays, books, and other published works; drafts (including electronic files), programs, and schedules for commencement addresses, readings, and other public appearances; photographs (including electronic files); travel diaries; datebooks; sketchbooks and drawings; professional and personal correspondence; fan mail; press and publicity material; childhood papers; college course notes, essays, and dissertation; and lecture notes, syllabi, exams, and assignments from his teaching career.
Call Number: Manuscript Collection MS-5338
Language: English, Arabic, Estonian, German, Italian, Spanish, and Swedish
Access: Open for research. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using archival materials. Two notebooks restricted due to condition and some correspondence restricted during Collins' lifetime.
Access: Open for research. Two notebooks restricted due to condition and some correspondence restricted during Collins' lifetime. Researchers must create an online Research Account and agree to the Materials Use Policy before using archival materials. To request access to electronic files, please email Reference.
Use Policies: Ransom Center collections may contain material with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in the collections without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the Ransom Center and The University of Texas at Austin assume no responsibility.
Restrictions on Use: Certain restrictions apply to the use of electronic files. Researchers must agree to the Materials Use Policy for Electronic Files before accessing them. Original computer disks and forensic disk images are restricted. Copying electronic files, including screenshots and printouts, is not permitted. Authorization for publication is given on behalf of the University of Texas as the owner of the collection and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder which must be obtained by the researcher. For more information please see the Ransom Centers' Open Access and Use Policies.

Administrative Information

Acquisition: Purchase, 2013-2014 (13-12-008-P, 14-01-008-P)
Processed by: Katherine Mosley, 2016

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Sketch

American poet and academic William James Collins was born March 22, 1941, in New York, New York. The only child of Katharine "Kay" MacIsaac (1901-1997) and William Stephen Collins (1901-1994), Collins grew up in Queens and White Plains, New York. He received a B.A. in English from College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1963, followed by an M.A. (1965) and Ph.D. (1971) from the University of California, Riverside.
Collins began his teaching career by working as an instructor at San Bernardino Valley College (1963-1964) and as a teaching assistant at the University of California, Riverside (1964-1967) while earning his degrees. His longtime association with the Herbert H. Lehman College began when he was hired as a lecturer at the time that the college was established as an independent City University of New York campus in the Bronx in 1968. The following year he was made professor; Collins has continued to teach at the college since that time and currently holds the title Distinguished Professor of English. In addition, he has taught at Stony Brook Southampton and Sarah Lawrence College and is Senior Distinguished Fellow of the Winter Park Institute at Rollins College.
In 1975, Collins co-founded and edited the small literary magazine The Midatlantic Review. His early poems were published in that publication, as well as in Rolling Stone, Echo, Voice, and other periodicals. Collins published two chapbooks, Pokerface (1977) and Video Poems (1980), before the University of Arkansas Press published his first full-length collection of poetry, The Apple That Astonished Paris, in 1988. His second collection, Questions about Angels (1991), was published as a result of winning the 1990 National Poetry Series Open Competition and received critical and popular acclaim. The University of Pittsburgh then published The Art of Drowning (1995) and Picnic, Lightning (1998). Meanwhile, Collins' poems continued to appear in Poetry, The Paris Review, and other notable periodicals and anthologies. In 1998, Garrison Keillor invited Collins to appear on his National Public Radio program Prairie Home Companion, which, along with an interview on Fresh Air, substantially increased Collins' readership. Random House published his next collection, Sailing Alone around the Room: New and Selected Poems (2001), as well as his subsequent books of poetry, most recently The Rain in Portugal (2016). Collins also published a collection of haiku, She Was Just Seventeen (2006), through Modern Haiku Press.
Collins was appointed to two terms as Poet Laureate of the United States (2001-2003) and served as the New York State Poet (2004-2006). Among his many other honors, Collins was chosen to be a Literary Lion of the New York Public Library in 1992 and was inducted into the Academy of Arts and Letters in 2016. He directed the Katonah Poetry Series from 1991 to 2008 and in 2012 became a poetry consultant for Smithsonian Magazine. Collins used his position as Poet Laureate to develop the Poetry 180 project as a way to expose high school students to poetry. A popular speaker, Collins has maintained a full schedule of poetry readings, workshops, and commencement addresses.
Collins married architect Diane Lynn Olbright on January 21, 1978. For most of their married life he lived in Somers, New York, but following their separation in 2006, Collins moved to Florida, where he became engaged to lawyer and poet Suzannah Gilman in 2013.


In addition to material found within the Billy Collins Papers, the following sources were used:
"Billy Collins". Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., 2016. Accessed 14 November 2016,
"Billy Collins". Poetry Foundation website, accessed 22 April 2016,

Scope and Contents

The papers of American poet Billy Collins include notebooks, drafts, proofs, clippings, tearsheets, reviews, royalty statements, and agreements relating to his poetry, essays, books, and other published works; drafts, programs, and schedules for commencement addresses, readings, and other public appearances; photographs; travel diaries; datebooks; sketchbooks and drawings; professional and personal correspondence; fan mail; press and publicity material; childhood papers; college course notes, essays, and dissertation; and lecture notes, syllabi, exams, and assignments from his teaching career.The materials date from 1935 to 2013 (bulk 1962-2013) and are organized in four series: I. Works by Collins (1962-2013, 28 boxes); II. Correspondence (1962-2013, 25 boxes); III. Personal and Career-Related Material (1935-2013, 39 boxes); and IV. Works by Others (1965-2013, 3 boxes). Any labels found on file folders have been transcribed and in most cases are indicated by single quotation marks in the container list. Descriptions of electronic files of manuscript drafts and digital images from Collins’ Apple G3 laptop computer (1312008P_001) and four computer disks (1312008P_002 through 1312008P_005) are included in the container list.
Series I. Works by Collins contains materials relating to his poetry, books, talks, essays, and reviews and is divided into six subseries: A. Poetry, 1962-2013; Subseries B. Notebooks and Sketchbooks, 1964-2013; Subseries C. Commencement Addresses, Lectures, and Other Talks, 1993-2013; Subseries D. Contributions to Books and Other Publications, 1991-2013; Subseries E. Editing, 1975-2010; and Subseries F. Reviews by Collins, 1978-2006. The subseries are arranged alphabetically, with the exception of notebooks and sketchbooks, which are in chronological order.
Subseries A. Poetry consists of drafts, proofs, and printed texts of individual poems, followed by manuscripts, publication material, and promotional material for Collins' published collections. Of particular note are typescript drafts of one of his best-known poems, "The Names", including Collins' reading copy as well as the program from the joint session of the United States Congress where he first read the poem commemorating the victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Among materials relating to Collins' collection Nine Horses is an annotated 'reading copy' of the book used for his poetry readings and other public appearances. Concluding the subseries is a small amount of material relating to his audiobooks and to the in-flight audio program Collins created for Delta Airlines in 2003.
Subseries B. Notebooks and Sketchbooks include Collins' notebooks of handwritten drafts, drawings, journal entries, and notes; and his sketchbooks, all dating from 1964 to 2013. The titles of drafts of works found within the notebooks have not been indexed, but the notebooks are arranged chronologically, and any titles written on them are included in single quotation marks in the container list descriptions. Collins' beginning drafts of most of his poems are written in his notebooks, so that a particular poem may be present in Subseries A as a handwritten or typescript draft and also located in a notebook from that time period. For example, early handwritten drafts and lists of names for Collins' poem "The Names" are found in one of the 2002 notebooks (folder 15.1). Any loose photographs, letters, draft pages, and other papers which had been inserted in the notebooks have been removed and filed behind each notebook, with their original locations recorded. Large sections of travel diary entries located in notebooks not specifically used as travel diaries are noted in parentheses in the container list descriptions. Other notebooks designated as travel diaries may be found in Series III. Personal and Career-Related Materials.
Subseries C. Commencement Addresses, Lectures, and Other Talks is comprised primarily of typescript and handwritten drafts of Collins' commencement addresses, keynote speeches and presentations at workshops and conferences, and talks at festivals and various other events. These date from 1993 to 2013, and some drafts are accompanied by handwritten notes, programs and other material. Additional material relating to Collins' appearances may be found in his correspondence, press and publicity files, and teaching files.
Subseries D. Contributions to Books and Other Publications consists mainly of drafts and proofs representing Collins' blurbs for books by other authors; essays published in anthologies, periodicals, catalogs, and programs; introductions, forewords, and prefaces to works by other authors; and poems by or translated by Collins that he contributed to books edited by other authors. These materials date from 1991 to 2013 and are arranged alphabetically within each group. Most blurbs are handwritten drafts on letters from publishers, but some typescripts are also present. Among items of particular interest are manuscripts relating to Collins' introductory comments about his poems included in The Best American Poetry series and in The Bedford Introduction to Literature: Reading, Thinking, Writing. Manuscripts of introductions and forewords include those for Hollywood Foto-Rhetoric: The Lost Manuscript by Bob Dylan; Signet Classic's 150th Anniversary Edition edition of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass; The Subway Pictures by Peter Peter; and a 2010 Mariner Books edition of Richard Brautigan's Trout Fishing in America. Also present is a typescript of Collin's contribution to Crossing State Lines: An American Renga, a chain poem in which 54 poets had two days each to add to the poem before passing it along to the next poet; correspondence about that project and drafts of the contributions by Paul Simon and Marilyn Hacker are located in Collins' correspondence files.
Subseries E. Editing includes materials relating to Collins' work as editor of The Best American Poetry 2006; Bright Wings: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems about Birds (2010); Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry (2003); and 180 More: Extraordinary Poems for Every Day (2005). A cover proof of the second issue of The Midatlantic Review has a handwritten note by Collins, and a complete set of copies of that publication from 1975 to 1979 has been removed from the papers and cataloged with the Center's serials holdings. Collins was also on the staff of Echo, the student poetry magazine at Lehman College, and the Spring 1970 issue containing various early poems by Collins is housed within the Works series.
Subseries F. Reviews by Collins spans the years 1978 to 2006 and is made up of tearsheets and clippings of Collins' reviews of works by other authors, as well as a typescript of his review of E. E. Cummings: A Biography by Christopher Sawyer-Laucanno.
Series II. Correspondence is comprised of Collins' personal and professional correspondence from 1962 to 2013. The voluminous files are arranged chronologically by year, with general alphabetical groupings. Although some copies of Collins' outgoing letters are present (usually as draft responses written on incoming letters), the majority of the correspondence consists of incoming letters from his agents, publishers, friends and fans, and from colleges and organizations requesting appearances by Collins. More recent files also include some printouts of email exchanges. While the bulk of correspondence is located in the Correspondence series, additional letters are scattered throughout the papers. An index of correspondents at the end of this finding aid contains locations for all correspondence in the collection.
Noteworthy professional correspondence includes that with Collins' longtime literary agent Chris Calhoun; Steven Barclay, whose lecture agency arranges Collins' speaking engagements; and Collins' editors Daniel Menaker at Random House, Cynthia Miller at the University of Pittsburgh Press, and Miller Williams at the University of Arkansas Press. Among other significant correspondents are Sister Mary Catherine Alexander, Warner Berthoff, Maude Schuyler Clay, Dan Christensen, Lee Gurga of Modern Haiku, Janice Fitzpatrick and James Simmons of Poets' House, Mark Halliday, Edward Hirsch, Lawrence Johns, David Lehman, Thomas Lux, Ronald Koertge, Todd McEwen, Joseph Parisi of Poetry magazine, Robert Peters, Marc Petersen, Arthur Plotnik, Kay Ryan, Michael Shannon, Laura Baudo Sillerman, Paul Simon, John Updike, and Henry Taylor. Collins and several friends enjoyed exchanging amusing postcards, and many of those are present, particularly in early correspondence. The publication history of Collins' breakthrough book, The Apple that Astonished Paris, including reader's reports and manuscript edits, can be traced through correspondence with Ronald Koertge and Miller Williams dating from 1985 through 1988. Correspondence with Elido Fasi and other translators documents the challenges they encountered in translating Collins' poetry into other languages. Collins' rising popularity is reflected by the increasing amount of fan mail, including letters from teachers and students studying his poems, and the number of public speaking requests he received. Collins and fellow poet Kay Ryan often shared their most unusual fan mail with each other, and numerous letters from Todd McEwen, Marc Petersen, and Ronald Koertge discuss their work as well as Collins'.
Series III. Personal and Career-Related Material comprises awards and honors; childhood and family papers; curriculum vitae; datebooks; travel diaries (some with photographs and drawings); scrapbooks; papers relating to Collins' education and academic degrees; ephemera; financial and legal material; proposed projects; files concerning the Katonah Village Library Poetry Series and other organizations and professional societies; photographs; poetry competitions; press and publicity files; materials related to Collins' readings and other appearances; and Collins' teaching files. These materials all date from 1935 to 2013 and are arranged alphabetically by subject, with further divisions by date.
Collins' postgraduate studies focused on nineteenth-century English literature, particularly the Romantic period. Papers relating to his coursework are accompanied by drafts of his 1971 dissertation on Wordsworth and the Romantic poet's conception of an audience. Within financial and legal materials are publication and broadcast agreements, royalty and earnings statements, and a file of correspondence and clippings regarding the dispute between Random House and the University of Pittsburgh Press over publication rights to Collins' poetry. Press and publicity files include clippings, tearsheets, and proofs of published articles about and interviews with Collins; transcripts of interviews; and Collins' typescript responses to journalists' questions, as well as publisher catalogs and announcements, clippings of book reviews and advertisements, and promotional material from the Steven Barclay Agency. Collins' readings and other public appearances, which have been handled by the Steven Barclay Agency since 2000, are represented by engagement contracts, itineraries and schedules, tickets and travel receipts, nametags and badges, programs, flyers, press releases, invitations, questions submitted by audience members, and reading copies of poems. Additional files relate to specific appearances, including the Prairie Home Companion radio program, the celebration of the 90th anniversary of Poetry magazine, conversations with Paul Simon at Emory University and the 92nd Street Y Unterberg Poetry Center, and others.
Collins' teaching career is documented by notes (most on index cards), course handouts, syllabi, writing exercises and assignments, and exams; grade books; and appointment letters and other employment correspondence from Lehman College, Rollins College, Sarah Lawrence College, and Stony Brook University. The numerous index cards of typed and handwritten lecture notes include jokes and quotations, and some grade books also contain lists of student malapropisms and teaching notes. Programs, brochures, rosters, and similar items relating to specific workshops and seminars, such as the Key West Literary Seminar and Southampton Writers Conference, and several files holding notes and poems used for unidentified lectures or workshops conclude the series.
Series IV. Works by Others (1965-2013) is comprised of materials created by writers and artists other than Collins and is divided into two subseries: A. Works Related to Collins and His Work, and B. Other Works. Both subseries are arranged alphabetically by author. Among notable manuscripts about Collins and his work are a copy of an elaborate scrapbook made by Karieann Morehouse of Collins' poem "The Names", accompanied by Collins' response to it; printed text of Ann Must's Estonian translations of poems by Collins; musical settings of poems by Collins; and drawings of Collins. Poems written in honor of Collins by various fans are housed at the end of the subseries; additional poetic tributes enclosed with letters to Collins may be found throughout Collins' correspondence files. In Subseries B. Other Works there are manuscripts of poems by Charles Bukowski, Katia Kapovich, Robert Peters, and Marc Petersen; Fielding Dawson's novel Penny Lane; and an untitled verse note by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Copies of printed essays about poetry contain highlighting and annotations by Collins. Many additional works by other authors may be found in Collins' correspondence and other files and are indexed at the end of this finding aid.

Related Material

For additional materials related to Billy Collins at the Harry Ransom Center, see manuscript holdings for Miller Williams.
Marc H. Miller's early photographs and manuscript material relating to Billy Collins may be found on his website, 98 Bowery 1969-89: View from the Top Floor, (accessed December 2016).

Separated Material

Bound volumes and serials (including eleven issues of The Midatlantic Review), an electronic textbook, and commercial sound recordings were transferred to the Ransom Center Library. Unpublished sound recordings were transferred to the Ransom Center Sound Recordings Collection. A VHS tape and compact discs were transferred to the Ransom Center's Moving Image Collection.
Commercial compact disc covers on metal rings and Collins' poet laureate identification badge and key were transferred to the Ransom Center Personal Effects Collection.

Index Terms


Barclay, Steven.
Berthoff, Warner.
Calhoun, Chris.
Clay, Maude Schuyler.
Gurga, Lee.
Halliday, Mark, 1949- .
Hirsch, Edward.
Koertge, Ronald.
Lehman, David.
Lux, Thomas, 1946- .
McEwen, Todd.
Menaker, Daniel.
Miller, Cynthia.
Parisi, Joseph, 1944- .
Petersen, Marc.
Plotnik, Arthur.
Rosser, J. Allyn (Jill Allyn), 1957- .
Ryan, Kay.
Simon, Paul, 1941- .
Taylor, Henry, 1942- .
Williams, Miller.


Herbert H. Lehman College.
Poetry (Chicago, Ill.).
Poets House (Firm).
Random House (Firm).
University of Arkansas Press.
University of Pittsburgh Press.


American poetry-20th century.
American poetry-21st century.
Poetry-Public opinion.
Poetry-Study and teaching-United States.
Poets, American-20th century.
Poets, America-21st century.
Poets as teachers.
Poets laureate.

Document Types

Baby books.
Book reviews.
Christmas cards.
Digital images
Electronic records.
First drafts.
Galley proofs.
Grade books.
Greeting cards.
Lecture notes.
Press releases.
Printed ephemera.
Radio scripts.
Report cards.
Royalty statements.
Sheet music.
Sound recordings.

Container List