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Morton Dauwen Zabel papers

Identifier: Midwest-MS-Zabel

Scope and Content of the Collection

Correspondence with family, literary and professional colleagues; works, including manuscripts of books, articles, book reviews, poetry, course work, and course materials; personal materials including biographical sketches, curriculum vitae, memorabilia and clippings; photographs of family and literary associates.

Zabel was a voracious letter writer, carrying on long-term correspondence with important literary contemporaries including Louise Bogan, Malcom Cowley, Leon Edel, Horace Gregory, Marya Zaturenska, Harriet Monroe, Marianne Moore, David Schubert, George Sherburn, Allen Tate, and Ruth Draper.


  • Creation: 1861-1964
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1930-1960



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The Morton Dauwen Zabel papers, Correspondence series, are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 5 folders at a time maximum (Priority II).

The Morton Dauwen Zabel papers, Works, Personal, and Photographs series, are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Morton Dauwen Zabel papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections at

Biography of Morton Dauwen Zabel

Literary critic, editor, scholar, and educator.

Morton Dauwen Zabel was born on August 10, 1901 in Minnesota Lake, Minnesota, the son of Herman and Barbara Zabel. Zabel's father died when he was thirteen, and from then on he lived with and cared for his mother and sister Hyacinth Barbara Zabel. He attended the Military College of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, and then went to the University of Minnesota where he received a Master of Arts in 1922. That same year, he moved to Chicago to teach and continue doctoral studies at the University of Chicago. He received his PhD in 1933 with the thesis "The Romantic Idealism of Art in England: 1800-1850."

His writing career took many forms, beginning with poetry, but he became known primarily as a literary critic and scholar. He contributed poetry and reviews to Poetry: A Magazine of Verse and in 1928 became associate editor, working closely with founder Harriet Monroe. He wrote articles and reviews for many other publications including The New Republic, The Nation, The Southern Review, The Arts, The Partisan Review, and the Sewanee Review. Through his associations with these publications, he developed many close relationships with other editors and writers, most notably, Allen Tate, Horace Gregory, Malcolm Cowley, Louise Bogan, and Edmund Wilson. In 1937 he published an anthology compiling literary criticism from many of these colleagues, Literary Opinion in America. He also wrote the books Craft and Character in Modern Fiction, and the Art of Ruth Draper, and edited and wrote introductions for respected collections by Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens, Henry James, and others.

He taught for many years at Loyola University and became Chairman of the Department of English in 1929, while also filling visiting professorships at the University of Chicago, Northwestern, Notre Dame, and University of California, Berkeley. In 1943, the Rockefeller Foundation chose Zabel for the newly established post of Chair of North American Literature at the National University of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro. He spent two years in Brazil, and travelled and lectured throughout South America. He often referred to this time as one of the most "revealing and impressive experiences of my life." Upon his return from Brazil, he was hired as a professor of English at the University of Chicago, where he continued to teach until the end of his life. He was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship in 1944, and visited the arts colony Yaddo several times during the 1940s and 1950s. He became a trusted confidant of Elizabeth Ames, and was eventually made a board member, taking part in the selection of Yaddo residents.

Zabel lived in the same Rogers Park apartment for most of his life, first with his mother and sister, and then alone after their deaths. He never married. He died in Billings Hospital, Chicago, in 1964.


21.3 Linear Feet (51 boxes)


Correspondence, works, personal materials, and photographs of literary critic, editor, scholar, and educator Morton Dauwen Zabel.


Papers are organized in the following series:

Series 1: Correspondence, 1890-1964
Boxes 1-22
Series 2: Works, 1921-1963
Boxes 23-47
Series 3: Personal, 1918-1962
Boxes 48-50
Series 4: Photographs, approximately 1861-1960
Box 51

Collection Stack Location

1 37 5-7


Bequest of the estate of Morton D. Zabel, 1965.

Processed by

Lisa Janssen, 2008.


This inventory was created with the generous support of the Poetry Foundation. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this inventory do not necessarily represent those of the Poetry Foundation.

Inventory of the Morton Dauwen Zabel papers, 1861-1964, bulk 1930-1960
Under Revision
Lisa Janssen
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States