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Virginia Hamilton Adair Collection

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Descriptive Summary | Abstract | Biography | Scope and Content

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Descriptive Summary

Virginia Hamilton Adair Collection

Collection Number:

Katharine "Kappa" Adair Waugh
Connie Kimos

Number of containers: 24 Boxes + Typewriter
Linear feet: 31

Virginia Hamilton Adair

Virginia Hamilton Adair



Shelf Location:
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona: University Library Special Collections, Bldg 15, room 4434

Collection Description

Virginia Hamilton Adair (1913-2004) was a poet and an educator. Her collection contains poems, book manuscripts, subject files, correspondence, personal papers, original drawings /illustrations, autobiographical accounts, notes, poem lists, and printed matter pertaining to her poetry and her life.


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. 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.

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 1936 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.

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.

Scope and Content

The Virginia Hamilton Adair Papers, 1920 - 2004, comprise much material: thousands of single poems (from the earliest to the latest) and poem collections and other works never published, which the poet produced over her lifetime from school days to two years before the end of her life; many poem collections by Virginia Adair into subject folders or binders; daily typed "journal" pages of notes, requests, poem drafts from 1994 to 2002; lists for public readings and lists of poems submitted to publications from the 1930s to the 1990s; publications containing her poems and/or interviews, reviews or biographical accounts and obituaries; family members' poems, prose writings and other items; photographs; audio cassette recordings; video tapes of public media interviews and private readings; realia such as Adair's manual Olympia typewriter; her original drawings and artwork.

The collection arrived in 25 boxes of assorted sizes, in no particular order, and they have been arranged into the following series:

  • Poetry
  • Prose Writings
  • Artworks
  • Personal Papers
  • Publications
  • Recordings
  • Realia

The Poetry Series comprises Adair's personal and professional files of literary manuscripts: poetry fragments, single poems, poetry collections in subject folders and themed notebooks; poetry notes and lists.

The Prose Writings Series is composed of Adair's own prose works such as plays, short stories, travel journals and sketches, and other prose works, essays, articles; typescripts with revisions; autobiographical accounts and musings, etc. Of special interest is a notebook ["Blindsight"] prepared for submission along with a letter to Oliver Sacks containing prose descriptions of recurring "visions" or "apparitions" during waking hours. These visions included human figures, buildings, objects, etc. that were like a movie on a screen inside her eyes.

The Artworks Series contains single drawings made at various ages; a calendar for the Christmas season of 1920-21 she hand-wrote and illustrated when she was seven; a set of handmade paper dolls with fashionable 1920s outfits she designed as a pre-teen; a set of hand-colored block prints created at Williamsburg with colonial admonitions to children for church and table etiquette; a hand-drawn, hand-crafted flip-book for children: "A Child's Do-It-Yourself- Bestiary" that is undated, but possibly from the 1950s.

The Personal Papers Series contains VHA's typed daily notes; business correspondence, permissions, contracts, translations, etc.; fan letters; newspaper clippings about VHA; lists of poems for public readings; honors, certificates; travel journals including drawings of scenes; photographs; log book pages and calendars kept by helpers of VHA (c.1996 - 2004); photographs of VHA and family and friends; miscellaneous family documents; poems and prose works of friends and family members.


The Publications Series contains journals/magazines that include VHA poems and/or interviews of VHA; musical compositions of VHA's poems by Gwyneth Walker and Terry Schlecter.

The Recordings Series contains: cassette recordings of VHA poems read by her editorial assistants to help her edit her poems for published books; video tapes of interviews with VHA, and poetry readings by her; miscellaneous audio tapes of music and subjects she enjoyed.

The Realia Series includes VHA's typewriter, large-print New Testament, etc.

Series Description

Series 1: Poetry

Boxes 1- 8 Arranged alphabetically or chronologically

The files in this series were organized and titled by Adair herself. They consist of binders and folders created by Adair before her blindness, and continued by Adair's instruction to her editorial assistants after she became totally blind. They arrived in no particular order and were arranged alphabetically for ease in searching. The contents were in no way altered or separated. Some of the poems within them were previously or subsequently published.

Box 1: Individual Poems and Adair's lists 1930s - 1970s; poetry notebooks
Box 2: Individual Poems and Lists 1980s - 2000s (incl. Adair's lists for poetry readings)
Box 3: Poems in File Folders arranged alphabetically by subject, from "Aging" to "Zen"
Box 4: Poems Collected into Subject Binders (arranged alphabetically by title) A-E
Box 5: Poems Collected into Subject Binders (arranged alphabetically by title) F - N
Box 6: Poems Collected into Subject Binders (arranged alphabetically by title) O - Z
Box 7: Poems Collected as Proposed Book Manuscripts, Unpublished
Box 8: Poems by Monthly Output 1995 - 2001;haiku notebook handwritten during Christmas/NewYear's 1986-1987

Series 2: Prose Writings

Box 9

This series contains Adair's prose works such as plays, short stories, and essays; non-fiction autobiographies, book reviews, etc. Of special interest is a notebook ["Blindsight"] prepared for submission along with a letter to Oliver Sacks containing prose descriptions of recurring "visions" or "apparitions" during waking hours. These visions included human figures, buildings, objects, etc. that were like a movie on a screen inside her eyes. Often they would reappear after a hiatus, and she would welcome them as familiar totems.

Series 3: Artworks

Box 10

This series contains single drawings from early till late in VHA's life; a calendar for the Christmas season of 1920-21 she hand-wrote and illustrated, with accompanying verses, when she was seven; a set of handmade paper dolls with fashionable 1920s outfits she designed as a pre-teen; two hand-colored block prints created at Williamsburg as small posters with colonial-era admonitions to children for church and table etiquette; a handmade flip-book for children, featuring drawings of animals and people, with poems, cut into four strips to mix-and-match, and an eight by ten inch oil painting on canvas of a man in a green shirt reading a book while lying down on a brown couch.

Series 4: Personal Papers

Boxes 11- 16

Box 11: VHA's typed daily notes (1994 - 2002) including instructions to helpers, random thoughts, ideas for poems and actual poems; autobiographical details, and musings
Box 12: Biographical material such as helpers' logbook pages; calendars showing events, appointments, topics of discussion, etc. re VHA 1996 - 2004; lists of addresses; obituary notes , etc.
Box 13: Personal correspondence to and from friends and family; fan letters, etc., arranged alphabetically by name. Of notice is a Letter dated October 25, 1985 containing advice on meditation practices.
Box 14: Business correspondence, permissions, contracts, translations, etc.; lists of poems for public readings, etc.
Box 15: Family miscellany, honors, certificates; books, travel journals and sketches; photographs
Box 16: VHA's saved poems and collections of her "fortnightly poetry group" friends and others, such as family members; prose writings of friends, such as Elena DeLaurentiis' Americane in Collegio (American Girls in College) translated from the Italian original, with chapters devoted to particular classmates, among them "Ariel" who represented Virginia Hamilton; publications and clippings of/about people and subjects that interested VHA, such as Billy Collins, Harvey Shapiro, Poetry and Writing, Religion, etc.

Series 5: Publications

Boxes 17 - 22

This series is of publications that contain Adair's poems, which she collected from her college days, up till the year of her death; newspaper clippings about VHA, including obituaries; New York Times and NYT Review of Books with her Millennium poem, Harvey Shapiro book review and essay on Aging.

Box 17: Publications containing early poetry 1930s - 1971
Box 18: Publications containing poetry 1972 - 1981
Box 19: Publications containing later poetry, book reviews, and interviews including a paperback copy of Poets Against the War (1990s - 2000s)
Box 20: Ants on the Melon (1st book; some pre-publication material and publisher's "dead matter")
Box 21: Beliefs &amp Blasphemies (2nd book; stages and publisher's "dead matter")
Box 22: Living on Fire (3rd book; stages and publisher's "dead matter")

Series 6: Recordings

Box 23

This series consists of cassette recordings and videos of VHA interviews and poetry readings. Of special interest are some examples from The Writer's Almanac program on PBS, which aired some of her poems.

Box 23: Video and audio recordings of Adair's books, musical settings, interviews, etc. Audio cassette recordings of Adair's favorite music, poetry readings, etc.

Series 7: Realia

Box 24 (+24-A)

Collected here are Adair's Olympia typewriter (24-A), her large-print New Testament; a writing template for the vision-impaired; VHA's baby cup; wedding belt; a black and white photo of VHA in her wedding dress; and VHA's personal journals.

Related Collections

Some of Adair's poems appear in various Cal Poly Pomona poetry and literary anthologies (such as Tuesday at 11:00 and Harvest) which are separately cataloged and shelved in the University Archives collection. Copies of her books are separately cataloged and shelved in both the general circulating collection and in Special Collections.

Processed by:
Connie Kimos

Assisted by:
Alfredo Lafarga

Date Completed:
October 3, 2006

Updated by :
Jacob Rodriguez

Date Updated:
January 7, 2008

University Library Special Collections
Bldg 15 room 4434 •  909-869-2087 • kaerickson@cpp.edu