History of the Ralph Maud/Charles Olson Collection
This special collection is the bequest of Ralph Maud, professor in the Simon Fraser University Department of English from the charter year 1965 to his retirement in 1994 and the founder of the library’s Contemporary Literature Collection, which has Charles Olson (1910–1970) as its pivotal figure.
Charles Olson was a scholar-poet in the sense that his wide-ranging productivity in poetry, drama and essays was almost always a result of reading and research, and becomes more valuable to us as we do the appropriate reading and research. Therefore, to know what Charles Olson’s source books were, and to have them in a single location, is of great benefit to readers and scholars.
Olson’s own library from his home at 28 Fort Square, Gloucester, Massachusetts, was purchased by the University of Connecticut Library, and was catalogued by the curator, George Butterick. In his “Preliminary List” he was able to add many titles known and used by Olson, though not in his personal library. Ralph Maud’s Charles Olson’s Reading: A Biography (Southern Illinois University Press, 1996) carried this investigative process forward and The Ralph Maud Collection of Charles Olson’s Books, acquired throughout decades from bookstores and rare book dealers and, in the end, from the internet, was its ultimate result. What the several thousand volumes of this collection comprise, therefore, is a replica of the library from 28 Fort Square, plus all the other books that we know Olson used in some way.
The shelves containing this collection display Olson’s main interests: his devotion to Herman Melville, then the history of the founding of New England, especially Gloucester itself, the site of the Maximus epic. He felt it important to explore outside Western thought, with pioneering investigations into the Mayan and Sumerian, and later into Chinese and Ismaili texts. It is a wide range, and its idiosyncrasy is such that even the great established libraries of the world do not contain all the items.
A further stamp of uniqueness lies in Charles Olson’s marginalia, which Ralph Maud transferred from the Connecticut copies to his own, on many research visits through the years. So we have, in the more important cases, not only the book but a replication of Olson’s use of the book in marginal notes.
Last but not least, The Ralph Maud Collection of Charles Olson’s Books includes a few score of volumes that Olson actually owned, obtained by Ralph Maud from three sources: (I) from Jean Kaiser, Olson’s sister-in-law, who received from the poet very valuable annotated copies through the years; (II) from the poet’s daughter, Kate Olson, on her death, via Charles Peter Olson and Ken Stuart; and (III) from the basement of 28 Fort Square, books authenticated by Olson’s landlord, Paul Cardone.
Excerpted from: The Minutes of the Charles Olson Society #64/65/66 in conjunction with the Charles Olson Centenary Conference, Simon Fraser University, 4–6 June 2010.