Five College Archives and Manuscript Collections
Robert Francis Papers, 1891-1986
17 boxes (8.25 linear ft.)
Collection number: MS 403

Poet, essayist, 1984 winner of Academy of American Poets award for "distinguished poetic achievement." Contains notes, worksheets, drafts, typescripts, galley proofs, and bound volumes relating to Francis' book-length writings, essays, columns, and poems. Includes correspondence with other writers, publishing houses, and readers, notably Paul Theroux. Also contains personal photographs and Francis family records.

Terms of Access and Use:

The collection is open for research.

Special Collections and University Archives, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Biographical Note

Robert Francis was born on August 12, 1901, in Upland, Pennsylvania, the son of the Rev. Ebenezer F. Francis and Ida May Allen Francis. In 1910 the family moved to Massachusetts where Robert finished his grammar schooling and attended Medford High School, from which he graduated in 1919 as valedictorian. He entered Harvard College that year and graduated in 1923. The next year he taught English in the Prep School of the American University of Beirut in Lebanon. During 1925-1926 he earned an Ed.M. at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

A few months later he moved to Amherst to teach English in the high school. Although that position lasted for one year, he established his residence in Amherst, and used it as a base for his developing career as a writer. During these early years he supported himself by his writing, and by his violin teaching.

Numerous essays he wrote appeared in newspaper columns within the next decade. Some of these contributions, were on a regular basis, for example in the Christian Science Monitor "Home Forum" column (1938-1954). In addition, Francis' poems and longer essays appeared frequently in those pages, and in numerous other publications.

His first volume of poetry, Stand With Me Here, was published by Macmillan in 1936. With this volume Robert Francis formally began his poetic career. This event prompted the attention and acquaintance of fellow writers. One of those instrumental in the publication of Stand With Me Here was David Morton of Amherst College, whose friendship brought the benefits of encouragement and wide experience with publishing.

In August, 1937, Mr. Francis was given a fellowship to the Breadloaf Writers Conference in Vermont, where he met Kentucky writer James Still. Valhalla and Other Poems, his second volume, and the praise which it drew from Robert Frost, followed a year later. In March, 1939, he vas co-recipient of the Shelley Memorial Award. Mr. Francis was also involved with the New England Poetry Club, and so became acquainted with another important friend and literary sponsor, Gretchen (Mrs. Fiske) Warren. In 1942-1943 he held the Golden Rose Award of the New England Poetry Club.

In 1940, Mr. Francis moved into the one-man house which was built for him on Market Hill Road, to which he gave the appellation Fort Juniper in 1942. Here he fulfilled all of the essential conditions of his philosophy, as he stated them in his autobiography: nature, leisure, and solitude.

After serving a brief stint in the army in World War II, he took a teaching position in the English Department at Mount Holyoke College in 1944. When he again resigned from the teaching profession, he renewed his commitment to his writing career. His essays, poems, and "Country Comment" columns were a regular feature of Forum magazine, beginning in 1946. A prose work, We Fly Away, was published in 1948, and Francis published his next volume of poems, Face Against the Glass, himself in 1950. In the early 1950's he experienced what he called "Lean Years." However, several following events were to balance the scales of success. His frequent violin solo performances in churches, publications in The New Yorker Magazine and The Saturday Review were some of the highlights of the next half-decade. He was Phi Beta Kappa poet at Tufts University in 1955, and at Harvard in 1960. Francis spent 1957-1958 at the American Academy in Rome with a fellowship from The American Academy of Arts and Letters. The Amy Lowell Poetry Scholarship again took him to Italy ten years later.

His next volume of poems was titled Come Out Into the Sun, published in 1965. Robert Francis' autobiography, The Trouble With Francis, appeared in 1971. In 1972, he published Frost: A Time to Talk, his account of visits by Robert Frost in the 1950's, taken from Francis' journals. Like Ghosts of Eagles, a poetry volume, appeared in 1974. The University of Massachusetts Press handled the publication of these works, and became his regular publisher. A Certain Distance, a book of prose, "sketches" was published by the Pourboire Press. Francis' Collected Poems, published by the University of Massachusetts Press, appeared in 1976. Francis On the Spot: An Interview With Robert Francis conducted by Philip Tetreault and Kathy Sewalk-Karcher appeared in 1976.

Mr. Francis gave numerous readings at the Jones Library (the public library of Amherst), and was featured on the Five College radio station, WFCR, in a program entitled "Poems to a Listener." By his appearances he helped to advance the appreciation of poetry, particularly among the young.

The beginning of the 1980's marked a period of activity and new-found recognition for Francis: a statement of his poetics, Pot Shots at Poetry, was published in 1980 by the University of Michigan Press; the Academy of American Poets bestowed upon him its award for "distinguished poetic achievement" in April 1984, while a book of poems, Butter Hill, and a book of prose, The Satirical Rogue on All Fronts, were published later that year; in 1985 Richard Gillman wrote a laudatory article about Francis in the New York Times Book Review, and Francis' prose work, Travelling in Amherst, was published one year later.

Robert Francis died in July, 1987.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Robert Francis Papers at the University of Massachusetts are a rich source of information about the life and philosophy of Robert Francis and the development of his poetry. They were given to Special Collections and University Archives by Robert Francis beginning in November 1975, along with a collection of his printed works which are now housed in the Rare Books collection of the Special Collections and University Archives department. There were additions to the papers from Francis Quinn, Mr. Francis' literary executor; from the University of Massachusetts Press; and from the Tunnel Press in 1977.

The papers occupy approximately 8.25 linear feet and are divided into seven series, including Bio-bibliographical, Correspondence, Poetry, Non-fiction, Fiction, Photographs, and Recordings.

The correspondence, poetry, and non-fiction series are especially strong and provide a detailed account of Mr. Francis' long literary career.

Information on Use
Terms of Access and Use
Restrictions on access:

The collection is open for research.

Preferred Citation

Cite as: Robert Francis Papers (MS 403). Special Collections and University Archives, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst.

History of the Collection

Acquired from: Robert Francis 1975-1987; Francis Quinn; the University of Massachusetts Press; and the Tunnel Press.


Additions to the collection are expected.

Processing Information

Processed by Stephanie Welch and Mark Madigan, 1988. The following letters, now interfiled with the Correspondence series, were previously arranged by Robert Francis in a file called "Help asked for and received."

Apodaca, La Verne April 20, 1980
Brazeau, Peter April 27, 1978
Cochran, J. March 30, 1980
Haney, Paula May 1, 1980
Juscik, Steve n.d.
Motts, Dona May 28, 1980
Norbutt, John January 10, 1979 (with response January 22, 1979)
O'Gorman, Ned March 8, 1980 (with response March 18, 1980)
Quinn, John Robert July 22, 1978; July 28, 1978
Richards, Lucie A. (2 copies) March 6, 1979
Sussman, Sherry (with photo of Francis) n.d.
Shetline, Leonard J. May 28, 1978
Tuttle, Claire September 1978
Liz [?] July 30, 1978

The following letters, now interfiled with the Correspondence series, were previously arranged by Francis in a file called "Letters of appreciation."

Abbe, George May 20, 1978
Boyd, Charles July 16, 1977
Brown, Rosellen November 16 [?]
Brown, Rosellen May 13, 1977
Cate, Edward W. January 22, 1977
Emery, Mary December 23, 1977
Faust, Pamela March 22, 1980
Hicks, John October 5, 1976
Howes, Jeanne February 12, 1977
Osborne, Marion A. September 6, 1977
Peterson, Lani January 17, 1979
Philbrick, Stephen November 5 [?]
Rand, Frank L. December 16, 1955
Reidy, P. Michael September 23, 1977
Rigby, Libby September 27, 1975
Roberts, Haslin Cherie August 13, 1978
Rosten, Norman December 6, 1976
Smith, Nathaniel B. July 29, 1978
Taylor, Thurston October 17, 1977
Tetreault, Phil May 29, 1979
Yolsen, Melvin B. August 21, 1978
Frank [?] December 16, 1954
Shirley [?] February 2, 1975

The following items, now filed in box 13, folders 165-169, were originally interleaved in the author's copy of The Trouble With Francis in the pages noted below.

Front matter Near East, November 1954
4-5 photographs: "Entrance to Market Hill Rd in 1940," "The Old House by the Brook, 1937-38"
12-13 photographs (4): "Adamites"
18-19 letter to Literary Executor for Robert Frost.
28-29 photograph: "Henry King of Flat Hills Road and one of his oxen"
32-33 photographs (2): "Forrest Sanborn"
34-35 photograph: "Porter Dickinson"
56-57 Christmas card (photo of rock.)
64-65 photographs "Walter from Brooklyn" & "Lord Wilbur"
70-71 photograph: "Richard Gillman at Fort Juniper"
74-75 photograph: "Full-grown mantids"
92-93 newspaper clippings (3) and photocopies about soybeans
98-99 Thanksgiving Dinner menus (8) with photocopies for Fort Juniper
108-109 postcard from Rebecca Richmond of Chautauqua Writer's Institute
116-117 photographs (2): "Pasquino, Rome" & "Trattoria Pasquino"
118-119 newspaper clippings about late birthday card with photocopies; birthday card delayed in mail nearly 30 years.
122-123 Christmas card from Francis Gillespie; postcard of Tyrellspass; vacation brochure
136-137 photographs: "Ferris Pemberton" & "Baptist Church, Greenport, NY"
142-143 photographs: "Aunt Addie" & "Aunt Nell" (2)
150-151 photographs: "James Allen Francis" & "West Medford Baptist Church"
156-157 offprint of Matthew Francis photograph postcard: "Tower in Lawrence Fels, West Medford"
158-159 photograph: [?]
162-163 photograph: Pat Francis [cat]
178-179 letter concerning Francis' illness
180-181 photographs: "Miss Phelan's house, Cambridge, Mass." (2), "Fellow inmate" (2)
182-183 news clipping, Harvard Alumni Bulletin 5/13/50
184-185 letter of appointment to American University of Beirut, 3/21/23
186-187 photograph: RF with students in Beirut; carbon of letter from Dr. F.J. McIntyre
188-189 letters (2) from Bancroft Beatley; news clipping and news photo of Harvard
192-193 photograph: "Theodore Ward"; typescript epitaph for Theodore Ward
196-197 photographs: "Schoonmaker family"; [?]
198-199 photographs (2): "Hildegard"
200-201 photograph: "Frost's house on Sunset Avenue"
204-205 photographs: "Jones Library" (2); "Prof. Arthur John Hopkins" [?]
218-219 Harvard Divinity School news clipping; letter to Harvard Divinity School

Additional Information
Contact Information
Special Collections and University Archives
W.E.B. Du Bois Library
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Amherst, MA 01003-9275

Phone: (413) 545-2780
Fax: (413) 577-1399