The American bibliographer, bookseller, and collector Robert A. Wilson was born in 1922. For many struggling writers and poets of the latter half of the twentieth century, Wilson was a familiar presence. As the third proprietor of the Phoenix Book Shop in New York City, Wilson provided both encouragement and financial support to many writers. Wilson bought the Phoenix Book Shop in March 1962, which he maintained at 18 Cornelia Street in Greenwich Village until 1975, when he moved the shop around the corner to 22 Jones Street, finally closing its doors in mid-October 1988.
The Phoenix Book Shop was known for its selection of books by the avant-garde and contemporary writers of the 1950s and 1960s, stocking works by Edward Albee, William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Michael McClure. Wilson's shop also specialized in modern first editions and literary manuscripts of writers such as W.H. Auden, Marianne Moore, Laura Riding, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, and Dylan Thomas.
Through the bookshop, Wilson published the work of many notable writers, including Gertrude Stein, Marianne Moore, W.H. Auden, Allen Ginsberg, Elizabeth Bishop, and Richard Wilbur. During his twenty-six year tenure as the proprietor of the Phoenix, Wilson oversaw the publication of no less than forty-three volumes. Wilson himself was the author of bibliographies of Gregory Corso (1966), Denise Levertov (1972), and Gertrude Stein (1974, revised 1994), and works on the book trade and book collecting, such as Faulkner on Fire Island (1979) and Modern Book Collecting (1980), The Phoenix Book Shop: a Nest of Memories (1997), and Seeing Shelley Plain (2001).Biographical information about the authors represented in this collection was obtained from the following sources:
Carol Bergé. Biography Resource Center. http://galenet.galegroup.com (accessed 15 March 2007).
[Individual author entries]. Contemporary Authors Online reproduced in Literature Resource Center. http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/LitRC.
Reed, Kenneth T. "Capote, Truman." American National Biography Online. February 2000. http://www.anb.org (accessed March, 23 2007)
Wilson, Robert A. Seeing Shelley Plain. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Books, 2001.
Additional information derived from the collection.
The Robert A. Wilson collection comprises approximately 9 linear feet of correspondence, manuscripts, typescripts, photographs, galleys, reviews, newspaper clippings, artwork, printed works, posters, flyers, catalogs, and other ephemera related to 36 prominent literary figures previously in the private collection of Robert A. Wilson (1922- ), the final owner of the Phoenix Book Shop in New York City (1962-1988).
Wilson's large personal library of published works by these authors is cataloged separately and housed with the printed holdings in Special Collections.
The Wilson collection is organized alphabetically by author. The correspondence for each author is organized chronologically and the manuscript and published materials are organized alphabetically by title. The best represented authors in the collection are Edward Albee, Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure, Ezra Pound, and Laura Riding. The materials related to Ginsberg, McClure, and Riding reveal that Wilson developed personal friendships with many of the writers in his collection, and the collection contains many items inscribed by these authors to Wilson.
Nearly all the materials in the Albee series are inscribed by the author to Robert Wilson and include many play scripts, theatre programs, and publicity photographs of Albee and his plays. Items of particular interest include director Alan Schneider's heavily annotated play script of The Ballad of the Sad Café, and cast member Irene Worth's play script of Listening with her autograph notes and underlining throughout. Additionally, the series contains a large number of periodicals with articles by or about Albee and his plays. The majority of the periodicals cover Albee's earlier works, such as Zoo Story (1959), Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1962), Tiny Alice (1965), A Delicate Balance (1966), and his adaptation of Carson McCullers's The Ballad of the Sad Café (1963).
The Bergé series consists of correspondence dating from 1992-2000, photographs, manuscripts, and ephemera related to Bergé's body of work.
Included in the Capote series is a variety of materials related to some of his best known works, most prominently Breakfast at Tiffany's, Beat the Devil, and In Cold Blood. Of particular note are the items related to In Cold Blood in its many forms from serial to film, which include several items from Capote's editor at The New Yorker, Sandy Campbell, such as an archive of letters kept by Campbell, the New Yorker galley proofs, and rough copies of the issues in which the four installments of Capote's novel appeared in 1965. A variety of scripts and screenplays are contained in this series, both original works by Capote, copies of scripts from the filming of Breakfast at Tiffany's and Beat the Devil, as well as adaptations of his works by others. Other items related to the author's life and career are also featured, including news clippings covering Capote's 1966 Black and White Ball, photographs, a collection of printed blurbs by Capote, and other ephemera.
Among the items of note in the Ginsberg series are Richard Eberhart's transcription of a 1956 Ginsberg letter concerning "Howl" and other poems, Ginsberg's autograph manuscript for Scrap Leaves (1968), and a group of photographs both of and by Ginsberg, many with Ginsberg's autograph captions, and a clipping of Ginsberg's beard. Also, the series contains several oversized posters and ephemeral items related to readings and events. The manuscript items are noted with the entry number in Bill Morgan's The Works of Allen Ginsberg, 1941-1994: a Descriptive Bibliography (1995), when available.
The McClure series includes typescripts of several plays, the manuscript and artwork for Little Odes (1961, 1968), a galley for Josephine (New Directions, 1980), several photographs, and a large group of correspondence, 1965-2002. Additionally, the series contains a number of posters and other ephemeral items for readings and performances, primarily in the San Francisco Bay Area and New York City, by McClure, many of which are inscribed by McClure to Wilson.
The Ezra Pound series includes correspondence, photographs, periodicals and other publications, and ephemera. There are two publishing contracts for early works by Pound, Exultations of Ezra Pound (1909) and Provença (1910). The correspondence includes letters from Pound to Elkin Mathews, Caresse Crosby, and René Taupin, as well as letters to Robert A. Wilson from Dorothy Pound, Olga Rudge, and Mary de Rachewiltz. Additionally, the series contains materials related to New Directions publisher James Laughlin's publication of Pound's rare Cantos 72-73 (1973).
The Laura Riding series primarily comprises correspondence dating from the last ten years of her life, 1981-1991. A few typescripts and autograph manuscripts are also included.
The Corso series includes a letter from Corso to William S. Burroughs (1985 March 14) concerning a misunderstanding between the two writers, the typescript manuscript of "Events Not of the Ordinary," with Corso's autograph corrections, and a long unpublished manuscript of poems, The Golden Dot.
The Lanford Wilson series contains several autograph and typescript manuscripts with Lanford Wilson's autograph notes, and a number of inscribed scripts and early drafts of his work.
Other items in the collection include early photographs of Peter Orlovsky and Allen Ginsberg, three Orlovsky notebooks, and the typescript for Clean Asshole Poems & Smiling Vegetable Songs, from 1957 to 1977  with Orlovsky's autograph corrections; galleys for Louise Bogan's translation of The Journal of Jules Renard (1964), which includes an autograph note in Glenway Westcott's hand; a series of photographs of Charles Olson and his family; and four long letters from Diane Wakoski.
A number of the items are accompanied by Post-it notes bearing brief descriptions in Wilson's hand.