Generalists, rejoice! Students and researchers whose interests scatter all over history and to every corner of the map will now have greater access to the papers of a literary woman with similarly diverse tastes. Twentieth-century American writer, editor, and translator Ruth Stephan’s son, John J. Stephan, has made a generous donation to Beinecke that will highlight his mother’s archive, the Ruth Stephan Papers and The Tiger’s Eye Records, by providing broad funding for new acquisitions, exhibitions, and student projects, as well as fellowships for graduate students and international scholars.
The Ruth Stephan Papers (http://hdl.handle.net/10079/fa/beinecke.stephan) consist of 148 boxes of various papers, photographs, and audiovisual material. A visitor to Beinecke who pages 5 boxes at random from the collection could find correspondence with Thornton Wilder, annotated drafts of Stephan’s poetry, research files on Queen Christina of Sweden, translations of Quechua songs, and materials from the filming of a documentary on Zen Buddhism. Stephan was born Charlotte Ruth Walgreen, and her papers also include a small amount of material documenting the history of the drugstore chain that her father started.
The Walgreen family had little use for contemporary art, and Stephan found her artistic wings clipped by their expectation that she should devote herself wholly to a role as mother and wife. She divorced her first husband Justin Dart in 1939 and asserted her independence through poetic output, publishing her first verses in venues such as Harper’s, Poetry, and Forum. She would find out, upon her father’s death, that she had been disinherited.
In the meantime, Stephan married the painter John Stephan, who encouraged her writing and with whom she founded the little magazine The Tiger’s Eye in 1947. The Stephans founded the publication to promote challenging new art. “The selection of material will be based on these questions,” they wrote in the first issue: “Is it alive? Is it valid as art? How brave is its originality? How does it enter the imagination?” In its two-year run, the groundbreaking magazine served as an important site for aesthetic discussion and featured the work of literary and artistic heavyweights like T.S. Eliot and Picasso, as well as of previously unknown creators. Records of production and distribution of The Tiger’s Eye can be found in Stephan’s papers and in the Tiger’s Eye Records (http://hdl.handle.net/10079/fa/beinecke.tigerseye).
With the closing of The Tiger’s Eye, Stephan traveled extensively in Europe, Japan, and southeast Asia. In addition to further volumes of poetry, her work includes two novels based on the life of Queen Christina of Sweden, The Flight (1956) and My Crown, My Love (1960); a volume of translated Quechua stories and songs, The Singing Mountaineers (1957); an audio compilation, The Spoken Anthology of American Literature (1963); and a documentary film, Zen in Ryoko-in (1971). Her philanthropic work included establishing a poetry center at the University of Arizona in 1960 (http://poetry.arizona.edu/). –Charlotte Parker, Y2013.
Images: John Stephan, Photograph of Ruth Stephan at her desk, (1960); The Tiger’s Eye, number 1 (1947).