Gregory Corso letters and poems

Biographical and Historical Notes

Gregory Corso (1930-2001)

Born in New York City, American poet Gregory Corso (1930-2001) was a young associate of the Beat poets.

Corso spent his early years in and out of prison. During his five year sentence for robbery at Dannemora prison in upstate New York, he learned to read and developed a passion for Percy Bysshe Shelley and Homer. When he was released from prison in 1950, he moved to Greenwich Village and developed close friendships with Allen Ginsburg, William Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac. In 1954, Corso moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and became a fixture of the literary underground. A group of Harvard students and intellectuals were so impressed with his poetry that they paid for the publication of his first collection, The Vestal Lady on Brattle. Corso's literary reputation was established in 1960 when he was included in the Grove Press Anthology The New American Poetry 1945-1960. By 1963, however, Corso's career was beginning to falter because of his addiction to heroin and alcohol. Although he published two more collections of poetry Elegiac Feelings American in 1970, and Herald of the Autochthonic Spirit in 1981), his career never regained the momentum of his great period in the 1950s.

Corso's personal life was never as successful as his literary career. He abandoned and eventually divorced four wives and several children. From 1992 until his death, Corso was supported financially by a wealthy Japanese artist, Hiro Yamagata. After being diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1999, Corso died in 2001 and his ashes were buried next to the grave of Percy Bysshe Shelley in Rome.


American National Biography. 24 vols. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Scope and Content

The Gregory Corso Letters and Poems comprise nineteen items spanning the dates 1958-1964 (with one poetry manuscript possibly signed in the 1970s). The collection includes letters from Corso to Ted Wilentz, Anselm Hollo, and the bookseller U. Grant Roman. A typescript letter accompanies a contract for Corso from Donald Allen regarding Corso's inclusion in his Anthology of Modern American Poetry from 1948 to 1958-59. The collection also contains a typescript, signed copies of "Hedgeville," "For Ignorance," and an untitled poem about Lawrence Ferlinghetti with handwritten additions and corrections. Additionally, five short untitled poems and a small notebook with the beginnings of a poem entitled "A Gift" are included.