Joel Oppenheimer Papers
Scope and Content
The collection contains only a small amount of Oppenheimer's writing and correspondence prior to his time at Black Mountain College. The Black Mountain period itself is also represented somewhat poorly, although there are a few items of ephemera. The content of the collection becomes more comprehensive in the late 1950s and into the 1960s, with a substantial number of poetry manuscripts and a wider range of correspondence. Oppenheimer's mode of composition seems to have involved writing poetry by hand on small scraps of paper (or in notebooks) and then typing the poems with some revision. He typed multiple copies of his poems so that they could be sent out for publication. While most of Oppenheimer's published poems are represented in the collection, it is difficult to discern between first drafts and later copies.
From the 1970s and onward, the collection becomes quite comprehensive with regard to Oppenheimer's writing projects and the correspondence that he received. Much of this correspondence remains unprocessed, including birthday and Christmas cards, "junk mail," and other pieces for which the correspondent could not be fully identified. Noteworthy correspondents include Robert Creeley, Ed Dorn, Anne Waldman, Robert Bertholf, and George Butterick>. Oppenheimer preserved carbon copies of his outgoing correspondence in some, but not all cases. The collection also contains carbon copies for much of the prose writing, including the Village Voice columns. He wrote dates on his work very infrequently, making the precise arrangement of this material difficult.
The balance of the collection comprises a sampling of Oppenheimer's notes and personal records, including materials related to trips taken for lectures and poetry readings, as well as a good deal of work submitted by Oppenheimer's students and other poetry submissions. There are some audiovisual records of Oppenheimer reading his work, and there are other pieces of ephemera, including copies of publications in which his work appears or in which he is mentioned or quoted.
A number of books, including Oppenheimer's personal copies of his own published works, have been removed from the collection and catalogued with the Monograph collection in Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Center. See "Separated Materials" for a list.
The collection is open and available for research.
Restrictions on Use
Permission to publish from these Papers must be obtained in writing from the owner(s) of the copyright.
Joel Oppenheimer was born in Yonkers, New York, in 1930 to Jewish parents. He failed out of ornell University after one year (in 1948) and spent less than one semester at the University of Chicago. In February of 1950 he enrolled at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where he became friends with Fielding Dawson and Ed Dorn and took classes with Paul Goodman and poet Charles Olson, while also working at the school's print shop. In his earliest poetry, Oppenheimer shows clearly the influence of William Carlos Williams, but he soon developed his own style. While at Black Mountain, Oppenheimer met and married his first wife, Rena Furlong ("Cissie"). He left the school in January of 1953 without taking a degree, eventually settling in New York and working in a print shop while continuing to write poetry.
The Dutiful Son was published by Jonathan Williams in 1956. The Love Bit and Other Poems came out on 1962. Oppenheimer's marriage fell apart by 1960, and his wife and two sons moved to New Mexico (Oppenheimer saw these two sons only rarely after this time). Oppenheimer had another son with activist Margaret Randall, although he was to see this son even less frequently (Margaret Randall spent years in Mexico and Cuba with her family). Oppenheimer enjoyed a period of sexual freedom in New York during the early 1960s, and attended parties given by LeRoi Jones. Oppenheimer wrote a successful play, The Great American Desert, in 1961. Publisher Jonathan Williams held on to a manuscript of poems from this period, entitled Just Friends/ Friends and Lovers from 1962 until its eventual publication in 1980. Oppenheimer married his second wife, Helen, in 1964, and eventually had two more sons. He left his job as a printer in 1966, when he became the director of the St. Mark's Poetry Project. This lasted until 1968, when Oppenheimer handed over the reins to Anne Waldman. Subsequently, Joel made ends meet by giving poetry readings, teaching classes at the City University of New York, and by writing a column for the Village Voice. Oppenheimer reached the height of his popularity as a poet in the late 1960s and early 1970s, publishing three books with Bobbs-Merrill Company, including In Time (1968), On Occasion (1973), and The Woman Poems in 1975. He also wrote a popular book about his love of baseball and the New York Mets in The Wrong Season (1972), as well as a book about Marilyn Monroe, Marilyn Lives! (1981).
In addition to his work as a poet and a journalist, Oppenheimer is interesting to consider in some other contexts. He was a well known figure in the New York scene of the late 1960s. He supplied the name for Max's Kansas City restaurant. He was a regular at a pub called The Lion's Head from the 1960s through much of the 1970s, even after he quit drinking cold turkey in 1971. Oppenheimer also lived for many years in the Westbeth artists's community in Manhattan. His correspondence also shows that he was something of a mentor to many of his own students.
Oppenheimer moved to New Hampshire in 1984. That same year he married his third wife, Theresa Maier (a former student). He worked at New England College and wrote a column for a local newspaper. Two new volumes of poetry, Why Not and New Spaces, both appeared in 1985. By this time Oppenheimer was battling lung cancer. By the spring of 1988, the cancer had spread to Oppenheimer's brain, and he was forced to give up both teaching and writing. He died at home in October of 1988.
100 Linear Feet
Language of Materials
Born in Yonkers in 1930, Joel Oppenheimer was a student of Charles Olson's at Black Mountain College from 1950-1953. He published over a dozen books of poetry, a play, a book on baseball, and was a columnist for the Village Voice from 1968 to 1984. Oppenheimer was the first director of the St. Mark's Poetry Project in Greenwich Village (from 1966 to 1968) and was an active teacher of poetry throughout his life. He died of complications from cancer in 1988. The collection contains only a small amount of Oppenheimer's writing and correspondence prior to his time at Black Mountain College. The Black Mountain period itself is also represented somewhat poorly, although there are a few items of ephemera. The content of the collection becomes more comprehensive in the late 1950s and into the 1960s, with a substantial number of poetry manuscripts and a wider range of correspondence. While most of Oppenheimer's published poems are represented in the collection, it is often difficult to discern between first drafts and later copies.
Series I: Selected Correspondence (undated, 1947-1988) contains incoming correspondence, sorted alphabetically, with separate folders for major correspondents, outgoing correspondence, and a small collection of correspondence arranged by subject.
Series II: Poetry (undated, 1953-1987) provides an alphabetical listing of individual poetry manuscripts, along with several unidentified (untitled) poems and materials relating to the publication of Oppenheimer's poetry, including some correspondence with publishers.
Series III: Prose (undated, 1947-1988) focuses on Oppenheimer's prose and journalism, and contains three boxes of typescripts.
Series IV: Notes and Ephemera (undated, 1925-1986) comprises additional personal notes and ephemera.
Organization of the collection was limited to those materials expected to be of research interest. Approximately 50 boxes of additional correspondence, ephemera, and work by Oppenheimer's students remain unprocessed, although a box list for these materials is included at the end of this finding aid.
Circa 1977, the University of Connecticut Libraryies' purchased approximately 8 linear feet of manuscripts and correspondence from Mr. Oppenheimer. The remainder of the collection was purchased after Oppenheimer's death in 1988.
A partial list of books by the author in the Dodd Monograph collection presumed to be from the Joel Oppenheimer Papers:
2 from At Fifty Dodd WPS 2061
Acts Dodd WPS 992
At Fifty Dodd B 6174
The Dancer Dodd WPS 1063
Del quien lo tomó : a suite Dodd WPS 1705
The Dutiful Son Dodd WPS 3180
Four Poems to Spring Dodd WPS 831
Generations Dodd WPS 2308
The Ghost Lover Dodd WPS 1922
The Great American Desert Dodd WPS 1727
Houses Dodd WPS 1654
In Time Dodd B 2496
Just friends/friends and lovers Dodd C 4930
The love bit, and other poems Dodd WPS 3084
Marilyn Lives! Dodd C 4928
Names and Local Habitations Dodd C 5008
Names, Dates, and Places Dodd C 7
New Spaces Dodd C 3787
Notes toward the definition of David Dodd WPS 2018
On Occasion Dodd B 4984
Pan's Eyes Dodd WPS 744
Poetry, The Ecology of the Soul Dodd B 3758
The Progression Begins Dodd WPS 1729
Sirventes on a sad occurrence Dodd WPS 300
The Uses of Adversity Dodd WPS 2383
Why Not Dodd C 3789
The Woman Poems Dodd B 2936
The Wrong Season Dodd B 2689
Multimedia materials identified in Series IV have been removed from the collection and housed separately. Please contact the curator to determine accessibility.
Organization of the collection was limited to those materials expected to be of immediate research interest. Approximately 50 boxes of additional correspondence, ephemera, and work by Oppenheimer's students remain unprocessed, although a box list for these materials is included at the end of this finding aid.
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- Joel Oppenheimer Papers
- Archives & Special Collections staff
- 2003 November
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