The University Record, December 14, 1998

U receives materials from Robert Frost family archives

By Mary Jo Frank
Office of Communications

A generous gift from the Robert Frost family archives, donated by the poet’s great-grandson, Robert Frost II, has greatly enhanced the University’s Frost holdings, according to Brenda L. Johnson, interim associate director of the University Library. The gift, she said, has made Michigan one of a “handful of significant repositories of Frost collections.”

Speaking at a Dec. 4 reception celebrating the donation, Johnson said that before the addition the Library’s collection consisted of many first edition Frost books and a modest collection of manuscripts. The gift includes books—many of them signed and dedicated to family members—photographs, letters by Frost and family members, a bust of the poet, first-day-of-issue stamps, Christmas card poems by Frost, and other memorabilia.

The Frost Collection is housed in the Special Collections Library on the seventh floor of the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library. The donor has provided liberal access privileges to this primary source material by and about a “man whose works are complex and widely loved,” Johnson added.

Robert Frost II said that although people think of his great-grandfather as a poet of space and place, he was “actually a man in motion.” Born on the West Coast, Frost moved numerous times and lived in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Michigan. “He was quintessentially a 20th-century kind of person, and not the quaint New England pastoralist some have imagined,” Robert Frost II said.

Robert M. Warner, dean emeritus of the School of Information and former archivist of the United States, described the gift as a “major addition to the University of Michigan’s intellectual resources.” Warner has been researching Frost’s years in Ann Arbor (1921–23, and 1925–26) and is writing a monograph to be published by the Bentley Historical Library.

The poet originally came to Michigan through the efforts of Marion L. Burton, the University’s fifth president (1920–25). A young, dynamic and visionary president, Burton’s accomplishments included the addition of new buildings and development of the campus’s intellectual life, Warner said.

Chase S. Osborn, a former governor and Regent, donated $5,000 to bring Frost to campus as the University’s first fellow of the arts. The only administrative paperwork regarding the appointment was a handwritten note in pencil addressed to Shirley W. Smith, the University’s financial officer, who wrote “OK” and initialed it, Warner said.

Students in the 1920s were thrilled to have Frost on campus. Many of his activities involved staff members of Whimsies, a student-published literary magazine. Warner shared excerpts from several letters written by one of those students, Stella Brunt, to her family in Canada. Upon first meeting Frost, Brunt found him “very kind and unassuming.” Later she would describe a session where he read and critiqued four of her verses as a “harrowing experience.” The local and Detroit media covered Frost’s time in Ann Arbor extensively and, Warner said, a local ice cream parlor sold chocolate-covered ice cream called a “Frost Bite.”

The celebration of the Frost gift included the reading of six Frost poems by President Lee C. Bollinger; students Melanie S. Walters and Nicole A. Vollmerhausen; and Nicholas F. Delbanco, the first U-M Robert Frost Professor of English. The poems read were “What Fifty Said,” “Spring Pools,” “Acquainted with the Night,” “The Nose Ring,” “A Winter Eden” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” all written in the years Frost held appointments at Michigan.

Bollinger said that although Frost is most often associated with New England, “we now know Robert Frost had deep and important associations with the University of Michigan.”

Bollinger would like to see a Frost poetry house on campus, a comfortable place where students can sit and read poetry to each other as well as to their teachers and to guests. The president is an enthusiastic supporter of the Library’s Café Shapiro, in which students assemble for coffee and literary readings in the lobby of the Shapiro Library. Bollinger said he has been amazed by the students’ creativity as evidenced by their writing.

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