Co-edited by John Hinsdale Thompson and John Malcolm Brinnin and based in Detroit, Signatures was a literary magazine of "works-to-be-published-later" written by contemporary American and international writers. Subtitled "Work in Progress," Signatures was first published in the Spring of 1936 and continued for a total of three issues, ceasing publication in 1938.
Signatures featured fiction by Katherine Anne Porter, James T. Farrell, Kay Boyle, Sean O'Faolain, as well as poetry by Kenneth Patchen, Muriel Rukeyser, and Louis MacNeice; and critical essays by Horace Gregory, Newton Arvin, and Granville Hicks. Brinnin and Thompson planned to publish Signatures semi-annually and were quoted as saying that in each issue they hoped "to publish the best available work for forthcoming books by established authors, as well as unusual work by younger unknown writers. These selections, whether from a novel, a volume of poetry, or a book of short stories, will be integrated portions of entire works and may be read as experimental excerpts or, equally well, with the idea of anticipating the trend of newer work by represented authors."
Hoffman, Frederick J., Charles Allen, and Carolyn F. Ulrich. The Little Magazine: a history and a bibliography. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1946. p. 336.
Information derived from collection.
John Hinsdale Thompson was co-editor of Signatures, along with his lifelong friend, John Malcolm Brinnin.
The two had known each other as undergraduates at the University of Michigan. Brinnin, as editor of Prelude; an expression of youth, a Detroit literary magazine, published Thompson's short stories, in 1934 and 1935.
During the years in which he edited Signatures, Thompson was working on a novel that was based on his experiences while a resident in Detroit. In the final issue of Signatures, "World Series," a chapter from Thompson's novel, appeared under the pseudonym Leslie Sellers. Following the appearance of "World Series," several publishing houses expressed interest in reading the finished novel. However, it is uncertain whether the novel was ever completed. Thompson also wrote prose and poetry. One of his essays, "Advice for Writers," appeared in a 1935 issue of The Passing Show, a Detroit magazine focusing on art and literature.
In 1947 Thompson was hired as an instructor of English at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, where he served until the late 1960s. At the time of his death, in 1973, Thompson was residing in Columbia, Missouri, with his wife Margaret Thompson.
Biographical information on John Thompson was derived from files in this collection and the John Malcolm Brinnin Papers (MSS 0103).
American poet and biographer John Malcolm Brinnin was also a critic, anthologist, and teacher.
He taught at Vassar, Boston University, University of Connecticut, and Harvard. He was Director of the YMHA Poetry Center in New York City during its most successful years (1949–1956).
Brinnin was the first person to bring Dylan Thomas to the United States and was responsible for all of Dylan Thomas' reading tours in America. Brinnin's best known work, Dylan Thomas in America, published in 1955, provides a personal memoir of Dylan Thomas' trips to America as observed while traveling with Thomas for the national series of readings. The book carries a moving account of Thomas' death in 1953. Brinnin later narrated a motion picture, The Days of Dylan Thomas.
John Malcolm Brinnin was most deservedly known for his poetry and has published a number of collections of poems. Brinnin's first collection of verse, The Garden is Political, was published in 1942; subsequent collections of poems include The Lincoln Lyrics (1942), No Arch, No Triumph (1945), The Sorrows of Cold Stone (1951), Selected Poems of John Malcolm Brinnin (1963), and Skin Diving in the Virgins, and Other Poems (1970).
In 1955 the Poetry Society of America awarded Brinnin its Gold Medal for Distinguished Service to Poetry. Following the publication of his Selected Poems in 1963, Brinnin was awarded the Centennial Medal for Distinction in Literature by his alma mater, the University of Michigan.
In addition to writing poetry, Brinnin co-edited Signatures; compiled several anthologies of modern poetry; and wrote popular works on transatlantic travel, including The Sway of the Grand Saloon: A Social History of the North Atlantic (1971) and Beau Voyage: Life Abroad the Last Great Ships (1981).
John Malcolm Brinnin authored biographies of Gertrude Stein (The Third Rose, 1959) and Truman Capote (Truman Capote: Dear Heart, Old Buddy, 1986). His 1981 work, Sextet, includes biographical sketches of Truman Capote; Henri Cartier-Bresson; Elizabeth Bowen; Edith, Osbert, and Sacheverell Sitwell; Alice B. Toklas; and T. S. Eliot. In addition, he wrote a critical work on William Carlos Williams.
On June 28, 1998, John Malcolm Brinnin died at his home in Key West, Florida.
Evory, Ann (ed.) Contemporary Authors. New Revision Series, Volume 1. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1981. p. 72.
Quartermain, Peter (ed.) Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 48: American Poets, 1880-1945, Second Series. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1986. Pp 52-57.
Stewart, Barbara. "John Malcolm Brinnin, Poet and Biographer, Dies at 81," New York Times. June 30, 1998. p. A22.
Acquired in 1975, the Signatures Archive consists of 2.2 linear feet of letters; galley proofs; typescripts of poems, short stories, excerpts from novels, and reviews; cover designs and proofs; clippings; printed material; and canceled checks. Although the archive spans the dates 1933 to 1970, most of the material is dated between 1935 and 1940.
Correspondence from various writers and the manuscripts they submitted for publication in Signatures constitute the first series, which total over eighty percent of the collection. Most of the authors' letters are cover letters to accompany enclosed typescript manuscripts of stories, essays, poetry, or chapters from novels. However the authors also inquire about publication dates, request information regarding acceptance or rejection of previously submitted material, suggest corrections or revisions for to-be-published manuscripts, or comment on issues of Signatures. Occasionally correspondents reflect on writing projects, family life, or their travels, as do Kay Boyle, Jack Conroy, James T. Farrell, Kenneth Patchen, Katherine Anne Porter, and especially, Muriel Rukeyser. Brinnin's contact with Katherine Anne Porter through Signatures developed into a lifelong friendship, which is reflected in his personal papers (Mss 103).
Among the correspondence are also canceled checks from the editors in payment for accepted manuscripts, galley proofs for work published in Signatures, clippings regarding authors, and occasional announcements of forthcoming publications.
The remainder of the archive consists of two folders each of business correspondence, publication material, and miscellaneous material. The business correspondence, dating 1935–1941, regards advertising and exchange agreements with other publications, such as Story, The Southern Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, River, and The Townsman (London); subscription and copyright information; and information requests from literary agents. Several proof copies or layouts for advertisements to appear in Signatures or announcements for Signatures, which were to appear in other publications, are also available among the business correspondence.
The publication material includes three issues of Signatures (which have been removed and cataloged with the printed holdings in Special Collections), cover designs and proofs for the initial issue of Signatures, and a file of clippings regarding Signatures, which was labeled "Vanity File."
The final two folders of the collections contain printed items collected by Brinnin and/or Thompson. The folders includes five issues of a Detroit literary magazine, The Passing Show, which published John H. Thompson's essay, "Advice for Writers," and clippings about a variety of literary figures.
The Signatures Archive clearly illustrates both the potential, and the difficulties of early twentieth century "little magazines." Although Signatures only published three issues, due to financial obstacles, contemporaries recognized and commended the quality of the magazine and the concept of publishing "works in progress."