Taking Care of the Future: Business Letters


Wallace Stevens: author of letters
Siobhan Phillips: editor, and author of introduction

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The Yale Review


Biographers, critics, and readers of Stevens have by now generally agreed with the poet and ceased to wonder that a man of imagination was also a man of business. Yet as the poems of that bottom desk drawer have grown more and more widely known, the rest of the papers that came before Stevens have passed into oblivion. Most of the business letters and insurance files he handled are by now lost through routine upkeep of company records; we know little of the nine-to five work that occupied much of Stevens's life. Much of what we do know comes from oral recollection: Peter Brazeau's Parts of a World, which compiles a biography of the poet through interviews with those who knew him, includes the reminiscences of many Hartford associates. While assembling this spoken testimony, however; Brazeau also acquired a small, rare collection of unpublished business correspondence, running from 1934, soon after the fifty-four-year-old Stevens was made a vice-president of the Hartford, until 1954, less than a year before he died at age seventy-five -- past retirement age but adamantly unretired. Excerpts of these letters are published here for the first time. Headed by bond and claim numbers and dense with the names, laws, locations, and figures of now-dead cases, they provide a direct demonstration of the complexity of Stevens's insurance tasks, as well as the competency with which he executed them.


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