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Jim Harrison papers

Identifier: RHC-16

Collection description

The Jim Harrison collection documents the life and work of Michigan-born writer Jim Harrison from 1938 to the present. Harrison has published books in several genres throughout his career, including poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and children’s literature; he also worked in Hollywood and wrote screenplays, including several with his daughter Jamie. Harrison is recognized as a master of the novella, and his critically acclaimed trilogy Legends of the Fall reinvigorated the form in America. His journalism for national publications includes book reviews, literary criticism, food columns and sports writing. His early influences include a childhood blinding in one eye, experiences in the woods of north central Michigan, a religious conversion as a young teenager, and hitchhiking to various American cities in the early 1960s. There are numerous recurring subjects throughout Harrison’s writings, such as the sanctity of the natural world, hunting and fishing, Native American history, Zen Buddhism, the complexities of human relationships, the joys of gourmet food, good wine, and sex, and the absolute importance of paying attention. Jim Harrison currently lives and writes in Arizona and Montana.

The collection includes handwritten drafts and typescripts of published and unpublished works by Harrison in all genres and interviews, reviews and writings about his life and work by others. It also contains extensive correspondence to Harrison from friends, family, and fellow writers including Tom McGuane, Ted Kooser, Dan Gerber, Gary Snyder, Denise Levertov, Rick Bass, Terry Tempest Williams, Louise Erdrich, Peter Matthiessen, artist and writer Russell Chatham, French gourmand Gérard Oberlé, and chef Mario Batali along with copies of his correspondence and responses. Sumac files partially document the Michigan-based literary journal founded and edited by poet Dan Gerber and Harrison in 1968 and published until the fall of 1971. Writings by others were collected by Harrison or sent by publishers or authors for review. Audio-visual materials include photographs, recordings of readings, taped interviews, posters, flyers and other works on paper, and productions of his work.


  • 1938 - 2016


Access to Materials

Collection is open for research use with the exception of the correspondence between Tom McGuane and Jim Harrison. This material is restricted indefinitely. Creator retains copyright.Collection is open for research use. Materials may be accessed by request at Special Collections and University Archives in Seidman House. Materials do not circulate.

Publication Rights

Copyright is retained by author. For more information on copyright or permissions for this collection, contact Grand Valley State University Special Collections.

Biographical Note

Jim Harrison, born in Grayling, Michigan in 1937, is the second of five children of Winfield Sprague Harrison and Norma Olivia (Whalgren/Walgren) Harrison. Educated at Michigan State University, Harrison has published books in several genres throughout his career, including poetry, fiction, nonfiction, children’s literature, and screenplays. He is recognized as a master of the novella, and his critically acclaimed trilogy Legends of the Fall reinvigorated the form in America. Jim Harrison currently lives and writes in Arizona and Montana.

[Sources for collection description and chronology: Conversations with Jim Harrison, edited by Robert Demott, Joseph Bednarik of Copper Canyon Press, and Jim Harrison Papers, Grand Valley State University Archives and Special Collections.]


Born James Thomas Harrison on December 11 in Grayling, Michigan. Harrison is the second of five children of Winfield Sprague Harrison and Norma Olivia (Wahlgren/Walgren) Harrison.
Family moves to Reed City, Michigan.
Playmate accidentally blinds Harrison’s left eye with broken glass laboratory beaker.
Family moves to Haslett, Michigan to be within commuting distance to Michigan State University (MSU).
Experiences a religious conversion at Baptist revival and becomes active as preacher at fundamentalist youth fellowships.
Works as busboy at Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado.
Travels to Greenwich Village to investigate bohemian life. Receives typewriter for seventeenth birthday.
Enrolls at Michigan State University (MSU).
Lives in New York City, San Francisco, and Boston for a short time. Drops out of MSU.
Returns to MSU and marries Linda May King on October 10, 1959.
Earns BA degree from MSU and enrolls in Masters program. Develops lifelong friendships at MSU with fellow writers Tom McGuane and Dan Gerber and Robert Dattila (agent). Daughter Jamie Louise is born.
Father and younger sister Judith die in automobile accident in November. Harrison leaves MSU.
Moves to Cambridge, Massachusetts to live with his brother John and works as a book salesman.
Moves to Kingsley, Michigan and works as a laborer. Publishes three poems in Nation and five in Poetry. With the support of Denise Levertov, W.W. Norton publishes Plain Song. Completes thesis “The Natural History of Some Poems."
Receives MA in comparative literature from MSU. Serves as assistant to mentor Herbert Weisinger and as assistant professor of English at SUNY— Stony Brook.
Receives first of three NEA grants and completes limited edition chapbook, Walking.
W.W. Norton publishes Locations. Organizes world poetry conference at Stony Brook. Returns to Michigan to undertake a film on the timber wolf with Dan Gerber and buys Lake Leelanau farm. Publishes first edition of Sumac literary magazine with co-editor Dan Gerber. Begins fishing in Key West.
Receives Guggenheim fellowship. Participates in Poets-in-the-Schools program. Publishes 5 Blind Men, a collection of poetry with Dan Gerber, J.D. Reed, George Quasha, and Charles Simic. Begins to write novel “Cities of the North.” Meets artist and writer Russell Chatham. Falls while on a hunting trip and suffers severe back injury.
Begins to write first novel Wolf while recovering from back injury.
Simon and Schuster publish Wolf: A False Memoir and Outlyer and Ghazals. Sumac ceases publishing magazine, but the press continues to publish books. Begins column with Sports Illustrated. Goes on literary pilgrimage to Moscow and Leningrad with Dan Gerber. Daughter Anna Severin is born.
Simon and Schuster publish A Good Day to Die and Sumac Press publishes Letters to Yesenin. Goes to Africa with Dan Gerber.
Contributes to and appears in the documentary film Tarpon with Richard Brautigan and Tom McGuane directed by Christian Odasso and Guy de la Valdene.
Viking Press publishes Farmer. Writes screenplay of A Good Day to Die for filmmaker Frederick Weisman, Meets actor Jack Nicholson on the set of Tom McGuane’s film Missouri Breaks.
Ithaca House publishes Returning to Earth.
Jack Nicholson finances Harrison’s writing for a year. Meets Seymour Lawrence, publisher at Delta, Delacorte, Dutton and Houghton Mifflin. Writes The Man Who Gave Up His Name and Legends of the Fall.
Center Publications releases combined reprint of Letters to Yesenin and Returning to Earth. Delta/Seymour Lawrence publishes Legends of the Fall (Revenge/The Man Who Gave Up His Name). Works as a contract screenwriter until 1997. Success leads to hiring Joyce Harrington Bahle to manage his career.
Purchases cabin in Grand Marais, MI for writing retreat.
Seymour Lawrence publishes Warlock (Delta) and Selected and New Poems (Delacorte). Publishes food columns in Smoke Signals. Open Book publishes Natural World: A Bestiary.
E.P. Dutton publishes Sundog.
Winn Books publishes limited edition of The Theory and Practice of Rivers and Other Poems.
E.P. Dutton publishes Dalva. Serves as contributing food editor of Smart magazine until 1990.
Clark City Press publishes The Theory and Practice of Rivers. The film Cold Feet, written with Tom McGuane is released by Lions Gate and stars Keith Carradine, Sally Kirkland, Tom Waits, and Rip Torn.
Houghton-Mifflin publishes The Woman Lit by Fireflies (Brown Dog/Sunset Limited). Revenge starring Kevin Costner is released by Sony Pictures. Receives Mark Twain Award for distinguished contribution to Midwestern literature from the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature.
Clark City Press publishes Just Before Dark: Collected Nonfiction. Esquire publishes first of Raw and the Cooked food columns through 1993.
Works on unproduced film “The Last Posse” a western for producer Doug Wick and Harrison Ford, and script for film on photographer Edward S. Curtis for Columbia Pictures.
French filmmakers George Luneau and Brice Matthieussent produce documentary film Entre Chien et Loup/Jim Harrison: Half Dog & Half Wolf.
Houghton-Mifflin publishes Julip (Seven Ounce Man/Beige Dolorosa). Wolf, based on screenplay by Harrison, starring Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer is produced by Mike Nichols and released by Sony Pictures.
Sony Pictures releases the film Legends of the Fall, starring Brad Pitt. Begins sequel to Dalva (Road Home).
Participates in Key West Literary Seminar. Shambhala publishes After Ikkyu and Other Poems. The film Carried Away, based on Farmer and starring Dennis Hopper and Amy Irving is released. Purchased Patagonia, AZ casita for winter home.
MSU Press publishes The Sumac Reader, edited by Joseph Bednarik with introduction by Harrison. Participates in Festival International du Livre in Saint-Malo, France.
Atlantic Monthly Press publishes The Road Home (preceded by French publication). Copper Canyon Press publishes The Shape of the Journey: New and Collected Poems. Becomes contributing editor to Men’s Journal and consultant to Orvis.
Receives the Colorado Review Evil Companions Literary Award, MSU College of Arts and Letters Distinguished Alumni Award, and is finalist for Los Angeles Times book prize. Receives honor at Festival International du Livre.
Atlantic Monthly Press publishes The Beast God Forgot to Invent (Westward Ho/I Forgot to Go to Spain) and The Boy Who Ran into the Woods. Wins Spirit of the West literary achievement award, and the MSU Distinguished Alumni Award.
Atlantic Monthly Press publishes The Raw and the Cooked. Aralia Press publishes A Conversation limited edition book of poems with Ted Kooser. Begins writing memoir True North.
Grove Press publishes Off to the Side. University Press of Mississippi publishes Conversations with Jim Harrison edited by Robert Demott.
Sells Lake Leelanau House and moved to Livingston, MT.
Copper Canyon Press publishes Braided Creek, a book of poetry in conversation with Ted Kooser.
Atlantic Monthly Press publishes True North. Sells Grand Marais, MI property.
Atlantic Monthly Press publishes The Summer He Didn’t Die.
Performs reading and conversation with Poet Laureate, Ted Kooser, for Lannan Foundation in Santa Fe, N.M. Copper Canyon Press publishes Saving Daylight, new and unpublished poetry.
Harrison Papers open to public for research at Grand Valley State University Special Collections in Allendale, Michigan.
Grove Atlantic publishes novel Returning to Earth. Elected as member of American Academy of Arts and Letters. Copper Canyon Press reissues Letters to Yesenin.
Grove Atlantic publishes novel The English Major. Mary Harrison Dumsch, Harrison’s sister, donates her collection of Harrison papers to Grand Valley State University.
Copper Canyon Press publishes In Search of Small Gods.Grove publishes The Farmer's Daughter. Harrison appears on Newshour with Jim Lahrer on PBS and No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain on the Travel Channel. University of Nebraska Press publishes an extensive bibliography to Harrison’s published works edited by Gregg Orr and Beef Torrey. Bob DeMott donates his collection of Harrison papers to Grand Valley State University including papers related to Conversations with Jim Harrison.
Anthony Bourdain's television show No Reservations features Jim in and around his home in Livingston, Montana.
Grove Atlantic publishes novellas The Farmer's Daughter, Brown Dog Redux, and The Games of Night under the title The Farmer's Daughter.
Grove Press publishes The Great Leader. Copper Canyon Press publishes Songs of Unreason.
Grove Press publishes Brown Dog, gathering five novellas published about the character 'Sun Dog' and adds a new one as a coda.
Grove Atlantic publishes The River Swimmer, including two novellas "The Land of Unlikeness" and "The River Swimmer."
Grove Press publishes The Big Seven.
Grove Atlantic publishes The Ancient Minstrel, including three novellas: "The Ancient Minstrel," "Eggs," and "The Case of the Howling Buddhas."
Copper Canyon Press publishes Dead Man's Float.
Jim Harrison died at age 78 of heart failure on March 26, 2016.
Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown revisits Jim in Montana later in the year.


160.85 Linear Feet (366 boxes)

Language of Materials



Arranged in 6 series: 1) Personal files, 2) Correspondence, 3) Writings by Jim Harrison, 4) Writings about Jim Harrison, 5) Sumac files, and 6) Writings by others.

Source of Acquisition

Acquired from the Meijer Foundation through a donation to Grand Valley State University in 2005. The records were transferred, in part, from the University of Arkansas, where they were on deposit. Additional materials are transferred from the files of Harrison’s assistant Joyce Bahle annually.

Jim Harrison papers RHC-16
Special Collections & University Archives
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Repository Details

Part of the Grand Valley State University Special Collections and University Archives Repository

Seidman House
1 Campus Drive
Allendale MI 49401 United States