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Collection Scope and Content Note


The correspondence (1963-1988) consists mainly of letters to and from family members and to and from friends, particularly Paul Bridgewater, Siri V. Melchior, Michael D. Fullwood, Michelle Patrick, Ralph Hardee Rives, Wendy Walker, J. J. Hawthorne, and Vela Holmes. For a period of years (1973-1979) Lynch kept careful carbon copies of his outgoing letters, though the name of the correspondent was handwritten only on the original. In both the diaries and in his correspondence, Robert Lynch chronicled and monitored his life very closely, particularly in the years in Cambridge, and at Redbird Cabin and Izetta House. The correspondence pertains mostly to his persistent and habitual inquiry into his artistic sensibility, his constant awareness of his ancestral resonances, and to the cultural and physical environment of Redbird Cabin and Izetta House. In letters to his siblings, he is both explicit and discursive as he sorts out the relationships and pressures within and among his immediate and extended families. In one case, he includes a copy of a 1968 letter to him from his father in a 1987 letter to his sister. Family correspondence includes letters to and from his mother Izetta Lynch, signed "your mom," and sister Rhonda McFarland, and also his siblings Judith, Elliott, and Tobias. Family names used include Blie and Boy. Other correspondence deals with his relationship with Michelle Patrick, sharing news with friends, with Redbird Cabin and its conditions, and his attempt to purchase it; also Lynch's Possession of Marijuana case, his involvement with the Prison and Jail Project of North Carolina, his collecting of outsider art and the beginning of his career as an art dealer. There is minimal reference to AIDS or his illness in the correspondence. There are several letters by Lynch returned to him lacking a correct address. There are some unopened lists of job openings from the Harvard Law School Placement Service, and many never opened notices of threatened litigation from several commercial creditors referring to unpaid accounts.

Robert Lynch's diaries represent the clearest depiction of his themes and perceptions. The diaries are chiefly poetic and impressionistic, but are occasionally narrative descriptions of events, family genealogies, or his poetic observances. His appreciation of and integration with nature are evident, both in the expository descriptions, and in his custom of pasting in wildflowers, leaves, and other botanical specimens. As a reader of T. S. Eliot, Lynch notes his self-conscious searching for the proper objective correlative: "occasionally configurations coag: writing; sex; family; work; the weather as now."

As with the correspondence, 1977 was a particularly fertile period, and the diaries for this year well document Lynch's chief concerns; outstanding among these is his engagement with his plural ancestries. As a member of a miscegenated group of African-Americans, Indians, mulattoes, whites, and other racial heterogeneities, Lynch describes his searches through his ancestries as his personal "vision quest." Describing the ways in which various cousins and family members lived in this complex descendence, Lynch notes that "some passed, some called themselves indians, and some blacks." The Haliwa-Saponi tribe, centered in Halifax County, North Carolina, were also called the Meadows Indians, the "Old Issue," and "the free people of color." He refers to his matrix of consanguinity, to his "grids of kinship," and genealogical "cloverleaf interloops." The elaborate Lynch, Richardson, Bass, and Hedgepeth patrimonies and matrilineal sequences are derived, and he notes as examples of these complex inter-familial relationships that his maternal grandmother was also a Lynch, and that "brother Elliott is dating my grandmother's aunt's great-grandchild." Lynch also expresses his perception of these self-referential heritages in a poem titled "Cousin Kissing." There is too a clear awareness of the "high yella" characterization of that part of his heritage which was African-American. He also refers to the homoerotic component of the American Indians' myth-rituals, and notes its personal and historical importance.

While the diaries show him piecing together these networks both practically and poetically, with some emphasis on the impressionistic, the clearest substantive exposition of his findings is most clearly put in the correspondence of 1977 and 1978. Writing his "family/tribal history" was chief among his pursuits. He several times refers to himself as a "sharecropper's son." When he begins a diary entry with a date, he often notes that it is "Judy's birthday," or "Blie's birthday" without any other comment. He refers to his dreams of the farm. The New South and its improved racial environment are an occasional concern, and he notes that when he left Rocky Mount for Chapel Hill in 1965, "it was from the colored waiting section." Another subject of his diaries is his travel and his observations.

In the years of the Harvard diaries and subsequently, he is also preoccupied with the difficulties occasioned by what he refers to as "lust." The Harvard diaries also document Lynch's often perplexing relations with Michelle Patrick. His attraction to men is expressed as well. Though there is little manifest reference to homosexuality, he chronicles his dilemmas with social and romantic affairs, and writes frequently of his dissatisfactions pertaining to his condition of lovelessness. Some of the later correspondence is overtly erotic, and a fair amount of the poetry also shows this preoccupation.

The diaries also describe his use of valium and drug experiences closely, his reactions to Harvard social life, his visits with a psychiatrist, his efforts to have siblings admitted to New England prep schools, his health, and his attention to and appreciation of visual art, dance, and jazz. Other topics include his academic problems, including his lack of commitment to Law School or to the law, and his indifference to a career. He read widely, and the diaries regularly register his reactions to Rilke, Woolf, Warhol, and many others. Lynch made verbatim typescripts of his handwritten diaries, particularly for the Harvard years. There were concurrently running diaries, and fragments whose span dates embrace the dates of other discrete diaries. There are no extant diaries for 1973-1974. He also employed an epistolary device in the diaries, with a "Ted" as his correspondent. Certain thematic phrases recur in various pieces, including "O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again," (by T. W.), and "what are the roots that clutch." As with the correspondence, there is in the diaries minimal mention of AIDS. There are also attached numerous pieces of ephemera, including an occasional notice of delinquent finance and a note from his mother, which evidently serve as artifacts rather than conveyors of information.

Robert Lynch noted frequently that his purpose in returning to Halifax County was to provide himself with time and to achieve a beneficent environment for the writing of his poetry. While at Harvard Law School, Lynch had studied with Robert Fitzgerald and Robert Lowell, but his work is classically imagist and haikuesque in nature. Among the many chapbooks which he composed and produced, there are very few narrative poems. Even in his expository prose, Lynch would use purely poetic images. There is evidence of fastidious reworking of some of the poems, including careful attention to metre. Though he entered the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition to no effect, and submitted work to other publishers, apparently nothing was published.

The photoprints, negatives, and slides form three categories; family subjects, (including many he took of himself in a mirror); a collection of photos of black men, most of which are erotic; and the artworks and the outsider artists visited by Lynch during his field collecting. Very few are identified. The videos pertain to Lynch's collection of outside art.

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