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Desmond Willson Papers


Desmond Willson Papers
Willson, Desmond
Collection number:
0.25 linear feet (24 items)
Bulk dates:
Inclusive dates:
Collection Area:
Literature and Rare Books
Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries, Hornbake Library, College Park, MD 20742. Tel: 301-405-9212, Fax: 301-314-2709, Email:

South African diplomat Desmond Willson and Katherine Anne Porter became acquainted in Washington, DC. Their correspondence, initiated during 1961 when both maintained residences in Washington, DC, continued when Willson's diplomatic postings took him to San Francisco, South Africa, and Switzerland. The Desmond Wilson Papers include fifteen letters and postcards Porter sent him between June 10, 1961, and December 15, 1967. Subjects include her work, common friends, travel, current events, and her health. The collection also includes clippings and a publication.

Important Information for Users of the Collection


This collection is open for research.

Preferred citation:

Desmond Willson Papers, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries.

Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item:
Publication rights:

Photocopies of original materials may be provided for a fee and at the discretion of the curator. Please see our Duplication of Materials policy for more information. Queries regarding publication rights and copyright status of materials within this collection should be directed to the appropriate curator.


This collection is PROCESSED.

Historical Note

South African diplomat Desmond Willson and Katherine Anne Porter became acquainted in Washington, DC, before June 1961, when they began exchanging letters and cards. Porter wrote to Willson from the Yankee Clipper Inn in Rockport, MA, where she had withdrawn to complete her novel Ship of Fools, from her residences in Washington, DC, and from Paris, Rome, and Naples, where she had travelled after the novel's publication in 1962. Apparently Porter and Willson enjoyed social engagements in Washington, DC, with their mutual friends Jordan Pecile and Barbara Thompson, later Barbara Thompson Mueenuddin. Barbara Thompson's interview with Porter was published in the Winter-Spring 1963 issue of the Paris Review. Daniyal Mueenuddin, Barbara Thompson Mueenuddin's second son, was one of Porters godchildren.

In the correspondence in the Desmond Wilson Papers, Porter wrote of her work on and the publication of Ship of Fools, their mutual friends Barbara Thompson Mueenuddin and Jordan Pecile, her travels in France and Italy, national and world affairs, and her health. During the time that Porter and Willson corresponded, he served as Cultural Attaché at the Embassy of South Africa, Washington, DC; at the South African Consulate-General in San Francisco, CA; as Head of the Audio Visual Division, Ministry of International Affairs, in Pretoria, South Africa; and Counsellor for the South African Permanent Mission in Geneva, Switzerland.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Desmond Willson papers consist of fifteen letters and cards Porter wrote to Desmond Willson between June 10, 1961, and December 15, 1967, eight clippings from newspapers and magazines published between November 25, 1956, and August 20, 1995, and a copy of a privately published holiday carol.

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

The Desmond Willson papers were acquired in September 1998. Trustee for Porter's literary estate, Barbara Thompson Mueenuddin Davis, donated the correspondence and other items Willson had received and collected to the University of Maryland Libraries with additional materials for Isabel Bayley's papers. Bayley served as Porter's literary trustee until 1993, when Davis succeeded her. Davis's note included with the Willson papers stated, "This is a collection of notes etc. sent to me by my old friend Desmond Willson, who was to have accompanied KAP to Pakistan in the early 60's."

Processing Information

Processed by:

Processed by Adam Cohen and Ruth M. Alvarez, August 2011

Processing note:

All materials were placed in acid-free folders in an acid-free box. Items were arranged in chronological order.

Encoded by:

EAD markup created using EAD database in Microsoft Access. Markup completed by Ruth M. Alvarez, September 2011.

Arrangement of Collection

This collection is divided into three series.

Detailed Description of the Collection

Series 1: Correspondence, 1961-1967 and undated (15 items)

This series consists of five postcards, five handwritten letters, and five typed letters Porter wrote Willson between June 10, 1961, and December 15, 1967. Although one of the handwritten letters is undated, it is clear from the context that it was written between 1961 and 1967. The subjects of Porter's correspondence to Willson include Jordan Pecile, Barbara Thompson Mueenuddin, Daniyal Mueenuddin, the completion and publication of Ship of Fools, her travel and residence in France and Italy, her health, and political, racial, and religious issues. Arrangement is chronological.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
Correspondence, 1961-1967 and undated series 1box 1folder 1

Series 2: Clippings, 1956-1995 and undated (8 items)

The Porter clippings Willson collected include a copy of Barbara Thompson's "Katherine Anne Porter: Mistress of the Grand Gesture" (Washington Post and Times Herald, November 25, 1956), a 1973 New York Post article, four obituaries (1980), and a review of Janis Stout's Katherine Anne Porter: A Sense of the Times (1995). The undated clipping is a portion of a circa 1962 article titled "Fiction Writers Come Back into Their Own: Vintage Year for U. S. Novel." The clippings are arranged in chronological order.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
Clippings, 1956-1995 and undated series 2box 1folder 2

Series 3: Publication, 1956 (1 item)

Porter inscribed a copy of Sweet Was the Song, an old English Christmas carol, with illustrations and text drawn by Ben Shahn (Roosevelt, New Jersey: Ben Shahn, 1956), to Willson: "For Desmond at/Christmas 1961/From Katherine Anne."

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
Sweet Was the Song, 1956 series 3box 1folder 3

Related Material

The Papers of Katherine Anne Porter in the Special Collections holdings of the University of Maryland Libraries include a file containing Willson's correspondence to Porter and carbons of some of hers to him.

For other related archival and manuscript collections, please see the following subject guides.