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Virginia Hamilton Adair Collection

  • Virginia Hamilton Adair Collection



Mary Virginia Hamilton was born in the Bronx on February 28, 1913 and grew up in Montclair, New Jersey. As a child she was surrounded by poetry. Her father, Robert Browning Hamilton, was a serious amateur poet who would read to her in her crib, from classics such as Pope's translation of Homer's Iliad; her mother, Katharine Temple Hopson, focused on Mother Goose rhymes. Mary Virginia began writing her own poems when she was six.

VHA age 3 at beach

She graduated from the Kimberley School in 1929, and at the age of 16 she entered Mount Holyoke College. She disliked the name Mary and dropped it as soon as she left home. She graduated with a Bachelor's degree in 1933 at the age of 20, already having twice won the distinguished Glascock Prize for poetry. A year later, she earned a master's degree at Radcliffe, after which she taught for one year at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

VHA as a young woman

As M.V. Hamilton or Virginia Hamilton and (after her marriage) as V.H. Adair or Virginia Hamilton Adair, while still in her 20s and 30s, she submitted poems to leading periodicals including the Saturday Review, the Atlantic, and the New Republic. She had many poems published before and after World War II. In 1937 she married Douglass Graybill Adair II, who was to become a respected American historian. The Adairs had three children: Robert "Robin" Hamilton, Douglass "D3" Graybill III, and Katharine "Kappa" Sidney. The family lived a number of years in east coast cities, during which time Douglass taught at The College of William and Mary and edited its distinguished William and Mary Quarterly. In 1955 they moved from Williamsburg to Claremont, California, where Douglass taught at the Claremont Graduate University. In 1957, Mrs. Adair began teaching poetry and children's literature classes at the then-California State Polytechnic College in Pomona (Cal Poly Pomona), continuing there until 1980. Throughout the years, she persisted in writing almost daily, mostly to please herself, without the dictates of publishers. Nevertheless, it is notable that she published more poetry before her celebrity and her three books than is usually recognized.

Virginia Adair's beloved husband Douglass committed suicide in 1968, without warning or discernible reason. The shock affected her deeply; she would allude to this loss in many of her subsequent writings.

After losing all sight in 1992, she kept writing on an old Olympia typewriter (included in the collection). In 1994 she moved into a single room in the Pilgrim Place retirement community in Claremont, where several helpers assisted her in revising her poems.

VHA in her later years

Her friend and fellow Claremont poet, Robert Mezey, in the early 1990s urged her to publish a book, and with his help, Ants on the Melon was published in 1996 under contract with Random House. At that time she was 83 and totally blind. The book met with acclaim, and made Time Magazine's Best Seller list in 1996. Random House published two more books of her collected poems: Beliefs and Blasphemies in 1998 and Living on Fire in 2000. She was the subject of a long article in the Jan. 1, 1996 New Yorker, by its poetry editor Alice Quinn, who published eight of Adair's poems in subsequent issues. Elizabeth Farnsworth interviewed her for PBS' News Hour, and she was interviewed on the Today show in 1997. Garrison Keillor occasionally read her poems on his popular radio program, "The Writer's Almanac."

Ms. Adair continued to be asked to do public readings in Claremont during the 1990s. With the aid of poet friends and helpers, she published three books of poems, as well as prose articles for such publications as The New York Times and others. She received honors and awards as well. The Glaucoma Foundation in December of 1996 honored her at its Annual Black and White Ball in New York. She was awarded an honorary D. Litt. from her alma mater, Mount Holyoke College, in 2003. She was the recipient of Kimberley Montclair Academy's Distinguished Alumni Award in October of 2003. She stopped writing in the year before her death on September 16, 2004.


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