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Robert Bly papers

Identifier: Mss081

Scope and Content Note

The collection includes manuscript materials; correspondence; photographs; journals and diaries; news clippings; posters and advertisements; audiovisual items; publishers' galley proofs; and personal items from circa 1900s to 2009. Besides English, some documents in the collection are written in French, German, Greek, Italian, Norwegian, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, or Urdu.

Because Robert Bly collected; translated; received inspiration and quoted poetry from at least the 12th century forward, the dates detailed in the finding aids are the dates of his record-keeping activity. They are not necessarily the original creation dates of each document found in the collection.

The materials in this collection will provide powerful sources of research for many subjects including: biographical information; the study of poetry in general; the artistic process of creating poetry, prose, and plays; analysis of changes in 20th century poetry; genealogy; Vietnam War protest documentation; Men’s Movement development and continuation; translation of poetry from various original languages; history of 20th century publishing; among many other topics. Researchers are also encouraged to access this collection for the large amount of intimate correspondence with many recognized poets and other notable people. His audiovisual materials will be useful to observe his reading and other performance techniques. Throughout all of the finding aids, "mss" is an abbreviation for manuscript or manuscripts.


  • Creation: Circa 1900s-2009
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1946-1999


Language of Materials

English, French, German, Greek, Italian, Norwegian, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, and Urdu

Restrictions on Access

There are no restrictions on access to the collection.

Restrictions on Use

Copyright retained by the creator.

Biographical Note

Robert Elwood Bly was born on December 23, 1926 in Madison, Minnesota, to Jacob Thomas and Alice Myrtle (Aws) Bly. Growing up on his parents' farm, he raised livestock and showed them at 4-H gatherings. He graduated from Madison High School in 1944, and enlisted in the United States Navy the same year. He was honorably discharged in 1946, and enrolled at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. After completing one year at St. Olaf, he transferred to Harvard University in 1947. Graduating Magna Cum Laude, he was named Class Poet for the Harvard Class of 1950. While at Harvard, Bly met many poets, including Donald Hall. Their friendship grew and endured throughout their lifetime.

To launch his writing career, Bly sought a solitary period in northern Minnesota and New York City for some time. In 1954, he enrolled at the State University of Iowa; married Carolyn McLean in 1955 in Duluth, Minnesota; and received a Master's degree from Iowa in 1956.

After leaving Iowa, Bly was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study poetry in Oslo, Norway. It was there that he was exposed to poetry by international writers for the first time. In 1958, he collaborated with William Duffy to publish The Fiftiesmagazine whose primary goal was to shed the formality of poetry they found prevalent in contemporary writing. Another goal of the magazine was to introduce international poets to American audiences. Bly and Duffy were generous in publishing many works of young, struggling poets from around the world, including their own poetry. The Fiftiescontinued to be published as The Sixtiesand The Seventies.

During the 1960s and early 1970s, the Bly family grew from two to six. Bly's first book of poetry, Silence in the Snowy Fields, was published in 1962. In 1966, Bly co-founded the American Writers Against the Vietnam Warwith poet, David Ray. Among other things, this organization existed to conduct poetry "read-ins" across the country on college and university campuses, and other venues, protesting the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Throughout this period, Bly protested, attended draft card burnings, was arrested, and wrote anti-war poetry in an effort to stop the massacre of innocent lives.

Robert Bly's National Book Award winning book of poetry, The Light Around the Body, was published in 1967. As part of his acceptance speech at the award ceremony in 1968, he called upon others to protest the war, and presented his award funds to resistors of the draft. In 1979, Robert and Carol Bly divorced. Bly married Ruth Ray in 1980.

Throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, Bly continued to write his own poetry and publish the works of other poets, including international poets. His translating expertise grew as he collaborated with poets and translators around the world.

In 1975, Bly organized the first annual Great Mother Conference. In the course of the ten day event, poetry, music, and dance were utilized to examine human consciousness. These conferences evolved into the Great Mother and New Father Conferences, adding storytelling, fairy tales, mythology, and other creative expressions to the many workshop offerings.

In May 1982, Bly collaborated with Keith Thompson to publish a groundbreaking article, "What Men Really Want" in New Agemagazine. The unprecedented international response from that article developed into Bly's work with the Mythopoetic Men's Movement. Men's groups were organized, whereby men shared poetry readings, storytelling, drumming, rituals, and more. The group retreats and day events enabled men to explore new ways of relating to each other, to their fathers, and to women. Bly continued his work with this movement through 2010. The concepts in the 1982 New Agearticle were expanded and eventually published by Bly in 1990 in the form of the New York Timesbest-selling prose work, Iron John: A book about men.

From a very early age, Bly had aspirations of performing in front of groups. That desire was realized again and again by his public appearances around the world. The notoriety of Bly's stature as award-winning poet, translator, and publisher created a demand for his unique style of reading of both his own and others' poetry. Always generous in sharing the stage, many of Bly's performances incorporated musical and other accompaniment, and left audiences forever transformed.

Bly continued to write and translate into the 21st century, including translating Henrik Ibsen's Peer Gyntinto English. In 2008, it was produced and performed at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Robert Bly was named the first poet laureate for Minnesota in 2008. Robert Bly has written original poetry, prose, and plays; translated poetry and prose of other writers; and published and edited numerous works. The "Blyography" is vast, and has not been gathered comprehensively. For listings of his works, see Robert Bly's website, Robert Bly's wikipedia entry, and LitCheck: The Center for Literary Biography Online's entry for Robert Blyat the University of South Carolina. In addition, for more biographical information on Robert Bly, researchers may consult a fee-based database, Contemporary Authors, available at university and public libraries.


124.21 Cubic Feet (289 boxes; 27 flat boxes; 9 shoe boxes; 6 book trays; 1 microfilm box; 1 oversize square box)


This collection contains the work of poet, writer, translator, activist, performer, literary editor, and publisher, Robert Bly. The materials include manuscripts, correspondence, journals, audiovisual items, photographs, publishers' galley proofs, news clippings, scrapbooks, and school assignments from childhood through Harvard, U.S. Naval service, State University of Iowa, and his career in writing, translating, and publishing poetry, prose, and plays.


The collection is organized into eighteen series:

Series 1. Correspondence

Series 2. Journals and Diaries

Series 3. Poetry manuscripts

Series 4. Prose manuscripts

Series 5. Plays manuscripts

Series 6. Translations manuscripts

Series 7. Publishing and Editing

Series 8. Vietnam War

Series 9. Conferences and Workshops

Series 10. Men's Movement

Series 11. Readings and Performances

Series 12. Personal

Series 13. Photographs

Series 14. Reviews

Series 15. Financial materials

Series 16. Miscellaneous materials

Series 17. Published materials

Series 18. Audiovisual materials

Physical Location

Mezz (R69, D1-3, R70, D7-D10) (R68, D4, S1-2); HB (R5, D17, S1); AV (R1, D7, S1, S4; R1, D8, S1; R1, D9, S1; R2, D2, S2-4)


Collection was acquired from the creator in 2006, with additional accruals beginning in 2007.

Related Material

Related collections in the University of Minnesota Libraries include: Carol Bly Papers (Mss079), James Wright Papers (Mss066), Bill Holm Papers (Mss100), Robert Bly correspondence to John Gill (Mss081A); Mike Hazard collection of Robert Bly audiovisual materials (Mss081B); Leonard Lewisohn collection of Robert Bly poetry translation materials (Mss081C); John Rosenwald collection of Robert Bly Great Mother Conference materials (Mss081D); Gerald Kegler collection of Robert Bly published works and news clippings (Mss081E); University of Minnesota Libraries collection of Robert Bly materials (Mss081F); Victoria Frenkel Harris collection of Robert Bly audio recordings (Mss081G); James Dickey/Robert Bly Correspondence (Mss081I) Donald Morrison Collection of Robert Bly audio recordings (Mss 81K)

Notable Correspondents

The following list provides a partial representation of the more than 700 internationally notable persons, including other poets, musicians, politicians, activists, and editors whose letters are contained in the collection. They may be located in the Correspondence series, or in other series under other file titles. Please consult the archivist for more detailed information found in the internal Collections file.

  1. Ashbery, John
  2. Baez, Joan
  3. Barks, Coleman
  4. Berrigan, Ted
  5. Berryman, John
  6. Bly, Carol
  7. Carter, Jimmy
  8. Codrescu, Andrei
  9. Creeley, Robert
  10. Densmore, John
  11. Deutsch, Babette
  12. Dickey, James
  13. Eberhart, Richard
  14. Ekelöf, Gunnar
  15. Ellsberg, Daniel
  16. Ginsberg, Allen
  17. Guthrie, Arlo
  18. Hall, Donald
  19. Hauge, Olav H.
  20. Hecht, Anthony
  21. Hillman, James
  22. Hyde, Lewis
  23. Ignatow, David
  24. Kinnell, Galway
  25. Kissinger, Henry
  26. Kizer, Carolyn
  27. Knight, Etheridge
  28. Kooser, Ted
  29. Kunitz, Stanley
  30. Levertov, Denise
  31. MacLeish, Archibald
  32. Merwin, W.S.
  33. Moore, Marianne
  34. Moyers, Bill
  35. Neruda, Pablo
  36. Oates, Joyce Carol
  37. Plimpton, George
  38. Ransom, John Crowe
  39. Rich, Adrienne
  40. Rowley, Coleen
  41. Rylance, Mark
  42. Salisbury, Harrison
  43. Sexton, Anne
  44. Simpson, Louis
  45. Snodgrass, W.D. ("De")
  46. Snyder, Gary
  47. Sonnevi, Göran
  48. Stafford, William
  49. Tate, Allen
  50. Tranströmer, Tomas
  51. Voznesensky, Andrei
  52. Warren, Robert Penn
  53. Williams, Jonathan
  54. Wright, James

Processing Information

The collection was processed and finding aid written in 2010 by Ann Mulfort, with the support of student assistants, Sarah Marrone and Kerry Ritterbusch. There was ample evidence of rodent and insect excretions, and other environmental effects in the original materials.

To maintain Robert Bly's original order of usage of the documents, his file contents and titles were retained, where possible. Therefore, if the contents of one file include materials from multiple series, they are located with Bly's original organization of the materials. For example, the file entitled: "Don Hall's comments on 'Light Around the Body'" is found in the Poetry manuscripts series, because it includes revisions to his poetry, but also includes some correspondence from Hall which provides context for the revisions.

Robert Bly papers, Circa 1900s-2009, undated Mss 81 Mss081
Ann Mulfort
April 2010
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Collecting Area Details

Contact The Upper Midwest Literary Archives Collecting Area