Weldon Kees was a polymath who achieved fame and critical success as a modernist painter, a poet, a writer of short stories, a jazz musician, and as an avant garde film maker and film critic. His most enduring fame and influence has been as a poet. Dana Gioia has described Kees (b. 1914) as one of the most creative poets of the generation that included Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, and John Berryman, among others.
Kees was a student of Lowry Wimberly at the University of Nebraska. He was an employee of the WPA's depression-era Nebraska Federal Writers' Project. After leaving the Writers' Project he moved to Denver and worked as a librarian. In 1943 he moved to New York, working as a writer for Paramount News, Time Magazine, and, briefly, as art critic for The Nation.
Working as a modernist painter, in 1949 Kees founded Forum 49 in Provincetown, Massachusetts. The group included notables such as Hans Hoffman, Robert Motherwell, Adolph Gottlieb and Elaine de Kooning. At the same time, Kees’ own paintings were included in a series of important shows at the Peridot Gallery in New York City. His fame as a poet was firmly established with the publication of his Robinson poems in the New Yorker beginning in 1948.
After seeing success at Provincetown, Kees left New York for California where he sought to establish himself as a musician and avant garde film maker. He disappeared in 1955. His mother donated his literary estate to Lincoln City Libraries after his disappearance, and the collection resides in the Heritage Room.
See the longer introduction to Kees on the Heritage Room Archives Pages.
The Heritage Room is the repository of the following collections relating to Weldon Kees:
The Weldon Kees Papers: This collection originated in papers collected from Kees' apartment by Kees' parents after his disappearance or suicide in 1955, the parents added their own materials, especially photographs, and donated the collection to Lincoln City Libraries in 1963. Includes the developed film segments restored as The Point Reyes Project with a grant from the National Film Board.
The Weldon Kees-Norris Getty Correspondence: Kees and Getty met when both worked for the Nebraska Federal Writers' Project in Lincoln, in the 1930s. The two became friends and corresponded regularly until Kees' death. Getty donated the letters to Lincoln City Libraries in 1978, and included copyrights to his own letters in the donation.
The Robert Knoll Research Files: Knoll collected these files at the Heritage Room during his writing of Weldon Kees and the Midcentury Generation. Letters, 1935-1955 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986). In 1993 Knoll transferred all ownership and authority over the collection to Lincoln City Libraries. Original materials in these files were donated to Lincoln City Libraries by Bernice Wells, Margaret Smith, Anton Myrer, Robert and Kay Helm, and Nancy Johnson.
The Rudolph Umland Papers and Archives: Umland, in various posts, led the Nebraska Federal Writers' Project. This collection contains some materials on Kees.
The Gale E. Christianson Collection of Eiseley Research Materials: This collection was assembled by Gale E. Christianson in researching his biography of Eiseley, Fox at the Wood’s Edge: A Biography of Loren Eiseley, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1990. Christianson donated the materials to Lincoln City Libraries in 2005. The collection includes extensive correspondence with Rudolf Umland, some of which refers to Kees.
Kees artwork: On the South wall of the Heritage Room.
Kees association books, boxed with Cather and Eiseley association books in HR archive