Fielding Dawson correspondence to Marcella Simpson

Biographical and Historical Notes

American author, teacher, and artist Fielding Dawson (1930-2002) was a prominent exponent of the Black Mountain School of poetry. In addition to writing twenty-two books of literature and criticism, Dawson taught creative writing to students at various institutions including Naropa University and several correctional facilities.

Born August 2, 1930, in New York City, Fielding Dawson attended Black Mountain College under the tutelage of American poet Charles Olson (1910-1970). Dawson's memoir, The Black Mountain Book (1970), was the first book on Black Mountain written by a student of the school. Many of Dawson classmates at Black Mountain went on to become noted figures in twentieth-century art and literature, such as Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008). He also befriended instructors, like painter Franz Kline (1910-1962). After graduating, Dawson went on to write collections of poems and short stories and publish essays and literary criticism in newspapers and magazines. His works drew on his personal experience, including his childhood in Tiger Lilies, his relationship to psychotherapy in Sun Rises in the Sky, and his recollections of teaching in correctional facilities.

Beginning in 1984, Dawson taught creative writing for the next seventeen years to prison inmates at Attica Correctional Facility, Bayview Women's Prison, the Bronx House of Detention, Rikers Island, and Sing Sing Correctional Facility. Dawson served as the Chairman for PEN Prison Writing Committee, an organization formed in the wake of the 1971 Attica riot, that supported the writing of prisoners. Additionally, he featured the writings of prisoners on his radio program, Breaking Down the Walls, which ran from 1994 to 2000.


"Fielding Dawson." Contemporary Authors Online (reproduced in Biography in Context). (accessed March 9, 2015).

"Fielding Dawson." The Times (reproduced in LexisNexis Academic). (accessed March 9, 2015).

Scope and Content Note

Between 1972 and 1994, American author and artist Fielding Dawson (1930-2002) sent a variety of materials to his grandmother, Marcella Simpson, including letters, articles, journals, manuscripts, and ephemera. The collection provides insight into Dawson's literary career and his development as a creative wring teacher in correctional facilities.

In the letters Dawson wrote to his grandmother, he updated her on his progress writing and publishing his work. The letters detailed his negotiations with editors, publishers, and his financial status as he applied for funding for his projects. Dawson valued his grandmother's opinion of his work and sent her works-in-progress. Present in the collection is a selection of his short stories that was later used in his 1988 collection Will She Understand. Dawson also sent reviews of, advertisements for, and journals containing his work.

In addition to his own writing, Dawson kept Simpson abreast of the poetry workshops he developed in men and women's correctional facilities and his relationships with his students. His experiences with inmates often extended beyond the traditional student-teacher relationship and included intervening in their legal situations and writing letters of reference for parole, copies of which he included with his letters to his grandmother. In addition to his recollections in the letters, Dawson also sent Simpson material used in and produced by the writing workshops and a manuscript for a nonfiction work titled "The Chance and the Wheel." Dawson's letters offered a table of contents for a fictionalized account of his experiences conducting these workshops, titled "The House of D," which he was writing around the same time and may have laid the groundwork for his later work on the subject, No Man's Land (2000).