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A Critical Friendship

Donald Justice and Richard Stern, 1946-1961

Elizabeth Murphy

Publication Year: 2013

A chance meeting in the University of North Carolina campus library in 1944 became the beginning of a decades-long friendship and sixty-year correspondence. Donald Justice (1925–2004) and Richard Stern (1928–2013) would go on to become, respectively, the Pulitzer Prize–winning poet and the acclaimed novelist. A Critical Friendship showcases a selection of their letters and postcards from the first fifteen years of their correspondence, representing the formative period in both writers’ careers. It includes some of Justice’s unpublished poetry and early drafts of later published poems as well as some early, never-before-published poetry by Stern.

A Critical Friendship is the story of two writers inventing themselves, beginning with the earliest extant letters and ending with those just following their first major publications, Justice’s poetry collection The Summer Anniversaries and Stern’s novel Golk. These letters highlight their willingness to give and take criticism and document the birth of two distinct and important American literary lives. The letters similarly document the influence of teachers, friends, and contemporaries, including Saul Bellow, John Berryman, Edgar Bowers, Robert Lowell, Norman Mailer, Allen Tate, Peter Hillsman Taylor, Robert Penn Warren, Eudora Welty, and Yvor Winters, all of whom feature in the pair's conversations. In a broader context, their correspondence sheds light on the development of the mid-twentieth-century American literary scene.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Foreword: A Literary Friendship

William Logan

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pp. ix-xii

Literary friendships are based on a terrible longing, the longing to be understood. Every close friendship is a love affair—or, between writers, really four love affairs: between the writers themselves, between each writer and the work of the other, and at last between the two bodies of work. Such bonds may be formed through communion of interest, mutual admiration, desire...

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pp. xiii-xiv

I am extremely grateful to Richard Stern, Jean Justice, and the Donald Justice estate, without whose support this book would not have been possible. Thank you also to the patient and knowledgeable staff at the Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago and at the University of Delaware Special Collections Library. And for her guidance through the permissions...

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pp. xv-xxviii

In 1944 the nineteen-year-old Donald Justice (1925–2004) headed north to New York City from his home in Florida, where he was completing his BA at the University of Miami. His plans to move to the city following graduation fit the ambitions of a young man whose interests ranged from writing poetry to composing music. During a stopover at the University of North...

The Letters

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pp. 1-2

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Correspondence of 1946 to 1947

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pp. 3-22

Dear Dick—
My apology will have to be poems. I have done nearly fifty in the last two months, which is prolific for me. Many by now are destroyed because they were valueless, but some remain, doing their best to stand the test of time. Also stories, and my book (which I had to abandon because it soon seemed to contain too much bad and immature writing.)1 That worries me not, however, for...

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Correspondence of 1948

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pp. 23-60

Dear Don & Jean,
Sorry I have been so lax—Bloomingdale’s is a pretty mediocre correspondent.1
Have been relaxing with acedia but as of today things are tightening up. I had been planning to go to graduate school, in March to Carolina, in the summer to Columbia, in the fall to Harvard, but Monday I start working for Paramount—six or eight months of “training” (I guess learning how to run a...

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Correspondence of 1949 to 1950

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pp. 61-94

Dear Dick,
Just got yours today. I thought the Eliot poem—brace yourself—was something you’d tossed off as a postscript, till I saw the date. I can’t make heads or tails of the Empson;1 like the little girl said, “It’s something about the wheels.”2 But I am as ever very fond of “This last pain for the damned the fathers found,” or however it goes.3
If you’ve got an extra of the novelette, send...

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Correspondence of 1951 to 1952

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pp. 95-118

Dear Don and Jean,
Two ways to go about jobs here, the first being, I’m told, slow and unsure, namely writing to personnel depts in Washington. The second is to make direct contacts here either personally or by letter. The first nearly always works but I imagine the latter could be just as effective. For jobs in education, write Mr. Egbert Hunter, 7700 T.I. and E. Group, APO 757. (No German...

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Correspondence of 1954 to 1955

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pp. 119-152

In June 1952 the Sterns moved to Iowa City. For the next two years, Justice and Stern studied together at the Writers’ Workshop. In 1954 they completed their doctorates.
Justice’s creative dissertation, “Beyond the Hunting Woods, and Other Poems,” included a number of poems that would later appear, in some form, in
The Summer Anniversaries. Stern’s dissertation was a book of stories, many of which he published during his time at...

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Correspondence of 1956 to 1958

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pp. 153-176

In 1956 Justice took a teaching position at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota. He taught there for one year, and in 1957 returned to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop as a lecturer.

Dear Dick & Gay—I’ve written two duty letters tonight and have not enough time to get down to anything really worthwhile & pleasant—this is the nearest I can come. The sonnet “A woman I knew had seemed most...

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Correspondence of 1959 to 1961

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pp. 177-186

Dear Dick & Gay,
I meant to write long before this. By the time we got back here I was coming down with my traditional Christmas cold, a little delayed this time; after that there was the Kees preface to prepare,1 and some library work to do on it; and then the pile of manuscripts held over the vacation. I have today my first really clear day in weeks.
Jean probably told you in her letter that...

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Source Acknowledgments

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pp. 187-188

The letters of Donald Justice to Richard Stern are reprinted with permission from the literary executors of Donald Justice, copyright © Jean Justice. Courtesy of the Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.
The letters of Donald Justice to Richard Stern dated March 3, 1946, March 20, 1948, October 15, 1948, October 1, 1951, June 14, 1955, and October...


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pp. 189-228


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pp. 229-234


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pp. 235-249

E-ISBN-13: 9780803249448
E-ISBN-10: 0803249446
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803245044

Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 1 illustration
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 863158212
MUSE Marc Record: Download for A Critical Friendship

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Subject Headings

  • Novelists, American -- 20th century -- Correspondence.
  • Stern, Richard, 1928-2013 -- Correspondence.
  • Poets, American -- 20th century -- Correspondence.
  • Justice, Donald, 1925-2004 -- Correspondence.
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