Skip to main content

Kenneth Rexroth papers

Identifier: 0119

  • Staff Only
  • Select an item to initiate a request

Scope and Content

The papers of Kenneth Rexroth, American poet and activist, comprise manuscripts, notes, printed material, publications, correspondence, and ephemera related to Rexroth's poetry, writing, speaking engagements, and teaching, primarily from the last decade of his life.


  • Creation: 1940 - 1982
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1969 - 1981



Advance notice required for access. Financial records are restricted.

Conditions Governing Use

All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Manuscripts Librarian. Permission for publication is given on behalf of Special Collections as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained.


American painter, poet, critic, translator, and playwright Kenneth Charles Marion Rexroth was born in 1905 in South Bend, Indiana. After being expelled from a Chicago high school, Rexroth worked as a soda jerk, clerk, wrestler, and reporter to support himself. Although he attended the Art Institute of Chicago, he was largely self-educated in the literary salons, nightclubs, lecture halls, and hobo camps he frequented in the 1920s. In his youth Rexroth traveled extensively in the United States, Mexico, and Europe, and backpacked frequently in the American wilderness. During this time he worked as a forest ranger, harvester, fruit packer, factory hand, and mental institution attendant. He also became something of a political radical, allying himself with various avant garde and leftist organizations, and developing what would become lifelong interests in eroticism, anarchy, mysticism, and Eastern philosophy. In the 1940s New Directions published Rexroth's first poetry collections "In What Hour" and "The Phoenix and the Tortoise." Both works encapsulated Rexroth's pacifistic, anti-establishment ethos, represented his interest in the natural and erotic, and alluded to classical poets from the East and West. In the late 1940s, Rexroth launched the San Francisco Renaissance, promoting the work of poets like William Everson, LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Denise Levertov on a weekly radio show. His poetry and lifestyle also clearly influenced Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, and other Beat poets, though Rexroth would eventually come to disapprove of the Beat movement, and was displeased when he became known as the father of the Beats. In the 1960s, Rexroth brought national public attention to world literature poetry in translation through his "Classics Revisited" column in the Saturday Review and his anthologies of Chinese and Japanese poetry. Recognized by the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1964, he went on to publish collections of his shorter poems and longer poems in 1967 and 1968. From 1968 through 1974 he taught at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In 1974, he received a Fulbright scholarship to study in Japan, and in 1975 he received the Copernicus Award from the Academy of American Poets in recognition of a poet's lifetime work and contribution to poetry as a cultural force. Rexroth died June 6, 1982 in Montecito, California.


18.17 Linear Feet (28 boxes)

Language of Materials



The papers of Kenneth Rexroth, American poet and activist, comprise manuscripts, notes, printed material, publications, correspondence, ephemera, and artwork related to poetry, writing, speaking engagements, and teaching, primarily from the last decade of his life; also included are correspondence, manuscripts, drawings, photographs, and edits compiled by Geoffrey Gardner for a Kenneth Rexroth festschrift published in 1980.


The collection is organized into the following series: Series 1. Correspondence, Series 2. Festschrift, Series 3. Manuscripts by Rexroth, Series 4. Other writers' manuscripts, Series 5. Notes, notebooks, and scrapbooks, Series 6. Ephemera, clippings, miscellaneous records, Series 7. Artwork, Series 8. Financial records

Acquisition Information

All files acquired from Bradford Morrow, Kenneth Rexroth's literary executor.

Related Archival Materials

Kenneth Rexroth papers, Collection 175, Department of Special Collections, UCLA

Separated Materials

Rexroth's papers came with 8 cartons of books and journals from his personal library. These have been cataloged separately into USC's online public access catalog, Homer.

Processing History

Partially processed by Mike Garabedian, Fall 2004. In October 2011, Sue Luftschein completed the remaining rehousing and description.


Finding Aid for the Kenneth Rexroth papers
Mike Garabedian
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2011 October: Finding aid edited, updated, and completed by Sue Luftschein
  • 2022 April: Finding aid updated by Bo Doub to include a broadside from accrual no. 2022-029.

Repository Details

Part of the USC Libraries Special Collections Repository

Doheny Memorial Library 206
3550 Trousdale Parkway
Los Angeles California 90089-0189 United States