Stevie Smith, the English poet and novelist, passed away 50 years ago this week on March 7, 1951. Special Collections has a sizable collection of hers, with 30 document boxes containing manuscripts, drawings, and original poem drafts. We also have over 1,000 books from her personal library that includes her own books and novels by other authors.
Our collection also includes photographs and correspondence. We have photographs of her that span her whole life. These two are my favorite because she looks so happy in them, especially the one of young Stevie standing in a boat.
Smith wrote three novels, all fiction based on her own life, however, she is most known for her poetry. Our collection comprises of over 800 sheets of poem drafts and her library has some annotated copies of her published poetry. She struggled with depression and nervousness for most of her life and it is evident in her writings, many with themes of death and separation. Her best known poem is “Not Waving but Drowning”, a poem about a dying man.
Most of her poetry is accompanied by her own illustrations. These illustrations appear quite whimsical when viewed independently from the often dark subject matter of her poems. She was a big fan of cats and in her papers are many poems, stories, and illustrations of them. She even published a coffee table book dedicated to the inner lives of cats entitled “Cats in Colour” (1959), of which we have an original copy.
When I flip through Stevie Smith’s papers, I am struck by the quantity of writing, drawing, and editing that she must have done in her 69 years. Most margins are filled with handwritten poems and illustrations, there are typed drafts on the backs of manuscripts, and even small scraps of paper have content. Her mind seems like it never stopped creating. Stevie Smith won multiple awards for her writings and a play with a film adaptation was written about her life. She died of a brain tumor in 1971 and her legacy lives on.
If you would like to see anything from our Stevie Smith collection or any others, we are still open by appointment to TU students and affiliates. You can make requests or ask us questions by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.