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The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the Thomas W. Duncan Papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1940-1959
Creator: Duncan, Thomas W. (1905-1987)
Extent: 8.50 linear feet.
Collection Number: MSC0594
Repository: University of Iowa Special Collections
Summary: Novelist and story writer. Preliminary drafts, notes, revisions, and galley proofs for three of his novels, including a highly successful circus novel, Gus the Great (1947).

Alternate Extent Statement: Photographs Box 1

Access: This collection is open for research.

Use: Copyright restrictions may apply; please consult Special Collections staff for further information.

Acquisition: This collection was given to the University of Iowa Libraries by Thomas Duncan over a period of years from 1953 to 1963.

Preferred Citation: Papers of Thomas W. Duncan, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa.

Repository: University of Iowa Special Collections
Address: Special Collections Department
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City, IA 52242
Phone: 319-335-5921
Curator: Greg Prickman

Thomas W. Duncan was born in Casey, Iowa, on August 15, 1905. His interest in writing developed early, and he was publishing articles and short stories in newspapers and magazines while still in his teens. In 1922, he entered Drake University majoring in pre-law. During the summers he traveled through the Midwest with a Chautauqua theatrical group. His first published novel, O Chautauqua, was later drawn from this experience. Transferring to Harvard University, Duncan changed majors to study writing. He graduated cum laude, in 1929. He worked as a reporter and feature writer for the Des Moines Tribune in 1929-1930. He returned to Drake and received his M.A. in 1931. After graduation he turned to writing fiction for pulp magazines. Between 1935 and 1940, Duncan published four novels, including O Chautauqua (1935), and a circus novel, Ring Horse (1940). None of these books sold particularly well. From 1942 to 1944 he taught at Grinnell College, where he also served as Director of Public Relations.
Moving to the West, with his wife Actea Carolyn Young, he began to write full time. His second circus novel, Gus the Great was published in 1947. It was a literary and financial success. It sold 750,000 copies, was made into a movie, was a Book-of the-Month Club selection, and earned Duncan over $250,000.00 in royalties.
Duncan continued to write, publishing such works as Big River, Big Man (1959), Virgo Descending (1961), and The Labyrinth (1967). He died in 1987, at the age of 82, in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

The papers of Thomas W. Duncan consist of 8.5 linear feet of manuscripts dating from approximately 1940 to 1959. Arranged in order of publication, they document the writings of Ring Horse, Gus the Great, and Big River, Big Man. Included are early drafts and typescripts, notes and revisions, and galley proofs.

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