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The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the Curtis Harnack Papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1927 -
Creator: Harnack, Curtis (1927-2013)
Extent: 17.00 linear feet.
Collection Number: MSC0621
Repository: University of Iowa Special Collections
Summary: Assistant Editor (with Paul Engle) Prize Stories 1958-1959. Author of a memoir, We Have All Gone Away (1973), and other books. President of Yaddo, 1981-1987; 1992-1997 President of the School of American Ballet.

Alternate Extent Statement: Photographs in Boxes 3, 7, and 9; Audio matieral in Box 9.

Access: Portions of this collection are under seal during Harnack's lifetime. These include correspondence as well as items pertaining to Gentlemen on the Prairie. (Restricted materials are not listed in this register. All materials listed in the register are open for research.)

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

Acquisition: Donated by Curtis Harnack during the years 1962 through 2012.

Preferred Citation: Curtis Harnack Papers, 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

Curtis Arthur Harnack was born on June 27, 1927, in Le Mars, Iowa, son of Henry and Caroline (Lang) Harnack. Raised on a farm near Le Mars in Remsen, Iowa, Harnack grew up near a unique American town. Home to one of the first golf courses in the Midwest and probably the first polo field in America, Le Mars was a place where, until the 1930s, cricket ruled over baseball. Settled by young British aristocrats in the 1870s-1880s, this northwest Iowa town witnessed the clash and sometimes compromise of upper class British ideals and middle American values. (Harnack in 1985 wrote a history examining this mix of cultures in late nineteenth-century Le Mars called Gentlemen on the Prairie.) Small town Midwestern life would be a dominant theme in Harnack's fiction.

Harnack from childhood wanted to be a writer. A graduate of Le Mars High School, he took his B.A. from Grinnell College in 1949. Harnack then headed to New York and earned an M.A. from Columbia University in 1951. He returned to Grinnell, teaching English from 1952-1956, and then moved on to the University of Iowa's Writer's Workshop, serving as an instructor in 1957-1958. Out of a teaching stint as Fulbright professor of American literature at the University of Tabriz in Iran came his 1965 memoir, Persian Lions, Persian Lambs: An American's Odyssey in Iran. Harnack returned to Iowa City in 1959--the same year he married the writer, Hortense Calisher--as a visiting lecturer in the Writer's Workshop before joining the literature faculty at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York. There he remained for the next eleven years. In 1971, Harnack left Sarah Lawrence College and became executive director of Yaddo, a foundation and retreat for artists and writers in Saratoga Springs, New York. Yaddo since its opening in 1926 has invited to stay some of the premier writers in America. Saul Bellow, Truman Capote, Carson McCullers, John Cheever, Philip Roth, William Carlos Williams, James Baldwin, and Flannery O'Connor--among many others--have all stayed and written major works at Yaddo.

Harnack in his career has written or edited nine books, many of which are set in the Midwest. Although he firmly resists the tag of Iowa author, he nevertheless said in 1985 that through his writing readers might find in Iowa something beautiful and rare and very special if you know how to look at it (Des Moines Register, 11/11/85). He has returned many times throughout his successful writing career to visit friends and family in northwest Iowa. Harnack was a 1962 winner of a Guggenheim fellowship in creative writing and a 1987 recipient of a Champion of the Arts Award from the New York City Foundation for the Arts.

Curtis Harnack died at his home in Manhattan on July 5, 2013.

The majority of the collection is made up of Harnack's literary manuscripts, with holograph and typescript drafts of his books, poetry, plays, and short stories. There are drafts, galley proofs, and printers' typescripts of We Have All Gone Away; The Work of an Ancient Hand, Love and Be Silent; Limits of the Land; Under My Wings Everything Prospers; Persian Lions, Persian Lambs; Memoirs of a Farmboy Radical; and The Attic. Finally, the collection contains materials ranging from correspondence, reviews, and biographical materials to royalty statements. Included in the 1996 Addendum is "Teenagers Helping in Cornfields," the first piece for which Harnack received payment. He was paid five dollars for the essay. In the 2001 Addendum is a model newspaper created by Harnack as a child in the nineteen thirties.

Curtis Harnack began giving his papers to the University of Iowa Libraries in 1962 and has continued to add to the collection over the years. Parts of this collection are under seal and currently unavailable for research.

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This collection is indexed under the following subject terms.

English & American Literature
Writers Archive at Iowa
Novelists, Story Writers, & Poets