Raymond Danowski, benefactor of Emory Libraries, receives honorary degree from Emory University

Published 05-11-2016

by Maureen McGavin

Raymond Danowski at Emory's Robert W. Woodruff Library in 2014. Credit: Emory Photo/Video.

Raymond Danowski, a prolific collector of rare books who placed his library with Emory University, received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree at the University’s 171st Commencement on May 9.

In 2004, Danowski placed his collection of 75,000 rare and first-edition books of poetry, stored in a vast warehouse in Switzerland, with Emory. The collection, now housed at the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, is thought to have been the largest library in private hands. Since its arrival, more than 5,500 journals have been added, totaling 50,000 issues, and the collection is celebrated as the largest of 20th-century English-language poetry in one location.

The collection, known as the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library, inspired the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library Reading Series, which over the last ten years has drawn distinguished poets such as Rita Dove, Seamus Heaney, Elizabeth Alexander, Paul Muldoon, Sonia Sanchez, Natasha Trethewey, Galway Kinnell and many others to the Emory campus to read their works.

“The Libraries’ relationship with Raymond Danowski has been transformational,” said Yolanda Cooper, University Librarian. “His contributions have assisted in making Emory a world-class destination for 20th-century English-language poetry, attracting students and researchers from across the country and around the world. His generosity continues to increase our resources and reputation substantially. This honor is well deserved.”

Danowski, who lives in South Africa, was unable to attend the commencement ceremony, but his son, Gus Danowski, who also sits on the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library advisory board, accepted the honor on his behalf.

Gus Danowski said later his father was “incredibly honored and excited” to learn he would be receiving the honorary degree. “It made him feel very humbled,” he said. “For myself, I’m so overwhelmed and proud, both of what my father has done and what Emory is doing with this collection, and I’m touched and honored he asked me to come and be involved.”

The Danowski collection contains first editions, chapbooks, photographs, typescripts, literary journals, and correspondence, as well as counterculture and other materials related to the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War and other 20th-century issues thought to affect some of the poets. The holdings come from the U.S., Australia, India, Canada, South Africa, and Ireland, Scotland and other parts of the U.K. Researchers have traveled from many of these same countries to use the collection.

The collection includes works and other materials by and about poets such as W.H. Auden, Charles Bukowski, Maya Angelou, Seamus Heaney, Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, Amiri Baraka, William Burroughs, and many others. Emory poet and professor Kevin Young, curator of the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library, has established a Danowski Poetry website that chronicles the programs, exhibitions, and offerings associated with the expansive collection.

“The new website highlights Raymond Danowski’s goal of acquiring every edition of every book of poetry in English for the 20th century,” Young said. “The collection remains a remarkable resource, a living library regularly added to with books and the Reading Series, making it the poetry library of record for the long 20th century.”

"With our distinguished poets, collections, and new spaces, Emory is now known throughout the world as the place where poetry happens,” said Rosemary M. Magee, director of the Rose Library. “When Raymond Danowski first chose Emory as the place for his poetry collection, he noted our emphasis on student scholarship and community access. That emphasis has only deepened in the courses offered, research opportunities, and new awards for students. Given his profound influence on continuing generations of students and scholars, it is most fitting that Raymond Danowski was awarded the honorary doctor of humane letters degree this year. He brings honor to all of us."

The commencement citation reads:

“Raymond Danowski: From his childhood, the magic of bound pages held him in thrall and thrilled him. Reading from the spines of his father’s night school texts, out of reach of his four-year-old hands, and then shelving tomes in the library as a teen, he lost and found himself in the fascination of the book. Captivated by the power of poetry, he gathered its rarity and its vastness in volumes and pamphlets and chapbooks and leaflets until it spilled from his imagination to fill a warehouse, and now filling our library. Open, living, accessible, his great collection exerts its mysterious pull on the minds of scholars and poets and others who share his passion for the English language made fresh. For his magnificent example of the search for comprehension as both understanding and completeness, we confer upon him today the degree of doctor of humane letters.”

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