The Peter Taylor Papers Addition

Identifier: MSS.0591

Scope and Content Note

In 1995, Special Collections at the Jean and Alexander Heard Library purchased a collection of important papers of the late author Peter Matthew Hillsman Taylor (1917–1994). The purchase was made possible through a grant from the Lester Glenn Fant Southern Literature Fund.

This collection contains the personal materials of Peter Matthew Hillsman Taylor, a Southern writer who was considered by many a Master of the short story form. The materials are mostly textual and are comprised of correspondence, manuscripts, holographs, clippings, and other related printed matter. Photographs are also included in the collection, however there are few.

Of the twenty-one boxes that are comprised of this collection, ten contain correspondence and another six are filled with manuscripts of Taylor’s writings. The other five boxes contain items of a biographical or personal nature, concern his career as author, or involve writings of others. The collection has thus been arranged in the following series: Correspondence, Writings, Literary Career, Biographical, and Writings By Others. Also included within this collection is one over-sized folder containing a promotional poster for the Governor’s Awards In The Arts for Tennessee.

Series and Subseries Descriptions

Series I. Correspondence, 1962-2000 (10 boxes)

The bulk of the Correspondence Series is made up of incoming letters, most of which are identified. The letters contained within this series are arranged alphabetically by correspondent. Some letters include photographs and newspaper clippings. Although the majority of letters were sent to Mr. Taylor’s home in Charlottesville, Virginia, some were sent to his other residences in Gainesville and Key West, Florida. The letters range in subjects from fan mail to personal and business correspondence. Most letters are from editors, publishers, colleagues, friends, and family. However there are also letters from former students, well-wishers, and admirers. Not only did letters come from inside the United States, but other parts of the world. These include: England, Italy, Japan, China, and India.

Prominent correspondents include: Bill Broadway (11); Felder & Nan Heflin (14); Judith Jones (11); Matilda Kirby-Smith (9); Hubert McAlexander (10); Chris Metress (11); C. Ralph Stephens (14); John Thompson (9); Robert Penn Warren (4); Tom White (34); Marcella C. Winslow (9); Virginia L. Wolf (6).

Series II. Writings, Undated (6 boxes)

The Writings Series consists of six boxes of manuscripts that are both published and unpublished works of Peter Taylor. The Writing Series consists of various genres: short stories, novels, and plays. A number of unidentified manuscript fragments complete this series. The writings have been arranged alphabetically by title.

Series III. Literary Career, 1945-1993 (1.5 boxes and 1 oversized folder)

This series contains documents relating to Peter Taylor’s literary career. Documents relate to: contracts, copyright, invitations, readings/appearances, reprint permissions, reviews, and royalty statements. Also included within this series in an oversized folder containing a promotional poster for the Governor’s Awards In The Arts for Tennessee.

Series IV. Biographical, 1977-1993 (0.5 box)

This series contains biographical information that relates to Peter Taylor. Documents include: financial records, interviews, photographs, and other miscellaneous newspaper clippings relating to the life of Peter Taylor.

Series V. Writings By Others, 1977-1993 (3 boxes)

This is the last series in the collection and comprise of numerous writings others have sent to Peter Taylor to read. Documents have a broad range of genres and cover many subject areas. However, Peter Taylor and his writings is the subject of most documents. Documents within this series are alphabetized by the creator of the work.


  • Inclusive: 1945-2000; Bulk: 1988-1992

Language of Materials


Biographical and Historical Note

  • 1917 Peter Matthew Hillsman Taylor is born 8 January in Trenton, Tennessee, the fourth child of Matthew Hillsman Taylor and Katherine Baird (Taylor) Taylor.
  • 1924 The family moves to Nashville.
  • 1926 Hillsman Taylor accepts the presidency of the General American Life Insurance Company, and the family moves to St. Louis. There Peter Taylor attends Miss Rossman’s School, 1926-29, and St. Louis Country Day School, 1929-32.
  • 1932 The family settles in Memphis, and Peter Taylor is enrolled at Central High School.
  • 1935 Taylor graduates from high school with a scholarship to Columbia University, where he intends to study writing. This plan is contrary to his father’s desire that he enter Vanderbilt and prepare himself for a career in law. After graduation Taylor and a friend work their way to England on a freighter, and upon his return Taylor delays entering college.
  • 1936 In the spring semester Taylor registers at Southwestern at Memphis. His freshman composition teacher is Allen Tate, who persuades him to go to Vanderbilt in the fall and study under John Crowe Ransom. At Vanderbilt, Taylor begins a lifelong friendship with Randall Jarrell.
  • 1937 In March and April, Taylor publishes his first stories in River, a literary magazine in Oxford, Mississippi. Ransom leaves Vanderbilt for Kenyon College at the end of the spring term, and Taylor decides not to return to Vanderbilt. Instead he gets a job selling real estate in Memphis.
  • 1938 Taylor enters Kenyon in the fall and forms a close friendship with Robert Lowell, who has also followed Ransom there.
  • 1940 After graduation from Kenyon, Taylor and Lowell (now married to Jean Stafford) begin graduate study at Louisiana State University under Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks. Taylor, who has sold a poem to Kenyon Review and two stories to Southern Review, leaves the program at Thanksgiving.
  • 1941 In June, Taylor is drafted. As a member of a company formed in Memphis, he is stationed for the next two and a half years at Fort Oglethorpe, near Chattanooga, Tennessee.
  • 1942 "The Fancy Woman," first published in Southern Review, is selected for The Best American Short Stories 1942, edited by Martha Foley. This is the first of nine Taylor stories to appear in this manual between 1942 and 1980.
  • 1943 In April, Allen Tate introduces Taylor to Eleanor Lilly Ross of Norwood, North Carolina. A graduate of Women’s College of North Carolina at Greensboro, she is then a student at Vanderbilt. After a courtship of six weeks, they are married on 4 June at St. Andrew’s School chapel near Sewanee, Tennessee, by Father James Harold Flye. In attendance are Robert Lowell and Jean Stafford, Allen Tate and Caroline Gordon.
  • 1944 In February, Taylor’s company is sent to Camp Tidworth in England.
  • 1945 Taylor is discharged in December with the rank of sergeant.
  • 1946 Allen Tate arranges a job for him at Henry Holt Publishers beginning in April, and the Taylors rent an apartment in Greenwich Village. In the fall Taylor takes a position in the English department at Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina.
  • 1947 The Taylors and the Randall Jarrells buy a duplex in Greensboro. This is the first of nearly thirty houses that the Taylors will own.
  • 1948 Taylor’s first collection, A Long Fourth and Other Stories, is published in March with an introduction by Robert Penn Warren. In the fall Taylor goes to Indiana University as assistant professor and director of the creative writing program. Katherine Baird Taylor is born 30 September. Taylor begins a long association with the New Yorker when his story "Middle Age" is published there in November.
  • 1949 He returns to Woman’s College at Greensboro. The Death of a Kinsman, his first published play, appears in Sewanee Review.
  • 1950 Taylor’s novel A Woman of Means is published in May. He is awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for 1950-51. "Their Losses" is selected for the O. Henry prize collection for 1950. This is the first of six Taylor stories to appear in the O. Henry annuals between 1950 and 1982.
  • 1952 He is awarded a National Institute of Arts and Letters grant. For the spring term he is a visiting professor at the University of Chicago, and in the fall he goes to Kenyon College as associate professor in English and drama. Taylor serves as advisory editor for the Kenyon Review from 1953 to 1959.
  • 1954 The Widows of Thorton (eight stories and a short play) is published in April.
  • 1955 The Taylor’s second child, Peter Ross Taylor, is born 7 February. Taylor receives a Fulbright grant for 1955-56 to do research in Paris for a play about Southerners who settled there after the Civil War. Enroute to France, he lectures at the Fourth Conference on American Studies at Oxford University.
  • 1956 The Taylors spend the summer at Rapello, Italy.
  • 1957 Taylor’s play Tennessee Day in St. Louis is published in February. It premieres at Kenyon in April. Taylor joins the faculty of Ohio State University to teach from January to June each year.
  • 1958 The Taylors spend the summer in Bonassola, Italy (while the Randall Jarrells and Robert Fitzgeralds are living at nearby Levanto), and the fall in Rome.
  • 1959 "Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time" wins the O. Henry first prize. Happy Families Are All Alike, Taylor’s third collection of stories, is published in November. It wins the Ohioana Book Award the next year.
  • 1960 Eleanor Ross Taylor publishes Wilderness of Ladies, the first of her three volumes of poetry. The Taylors purchase a cottage at Monteagle, Tennessee, and establish their pattern of living there in the summers. Taylor spends the 1960-61 school year in London studying at the Royal Court Theatre on a Ford Foundation Fellowship.
  • 1961 Taylor’s story "Reservations" is presented as "Delayed Honeymoon" on the U.S. Steel Hour in September.
  • 1963 Taylor returns to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro as Professor of English, teaching fiction writing.
  • 1964 Miss Leonora When Last Seen and Fifteen Other Stories appears in February. In the fall Taylor serves as Visiting Professor at Harvard.
  • 1965 Taylor’s father dies in Memphis on 13 November. Taylor is awarded a Rockefeller Foundation grant to devote the 1966-67 school year to writing.
  • 1967 Taylor’s sister Sally Taylor Fitzhugh dies in Memphis in the spring. Taylor joins the English department at the University of Virginia. With Robert Penn Warren and Robert Lowell, he edits the memorial volume Randall Jarrell, 1914-1965.
  • 1968 His play A Stand in the Mountains is published in Kenyon Review.
  • 1969 Taylor’s mother dies on 18 May in Memphis. He is inducted into the National Institute of Arts and Letters on 21 May. The Collected Stories of Peter Taylor is published in August.
  • 1970 "Two Images," the first of Taylor’s "Ghost Plays," appears in Shenandoah.
  • 1971 A Stand in the Mountains is first performed on 25 May at the Barter Theatre, Abingdon, Virginia.
  • 1973 Presences: Seven Dramatic Pieces is published in February. Taylor serves as Visiting Professor at Harvard for the fall semester.
  • 1974 In the summer Taylor has a heart attack at Clover Hill, his eighteenth-century residence outside Charlottesville. "The Instruction of a Mistress," the first of his verse-stories to be published, appears in the September issue of The New Review.
  • 1975 Taylor is given a four-year appointment at Harvard. He resigns the appointment in June, and the Taylors buy a house in Key West and begin spending winters in Florida.
  • 1977 In The Miro District and Other Stories is published in April. Taylor delivers the commemorative tribute to Robert Lowell at the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in May.
  • 1978 In May, the American Academy and Institute presents Taylor the Gold Medal for the Short Story.
  • 1979 Taylor delivers the commemorative tribute to Jean Stafford at the American Academy and Institute in November.
  • 1983 In May, Taylor is inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters; and in June, he retires from the University of Virginia.
  • 1984 A Woman of Means is reprinted by Frederick C. Beil. The film version of Taylor’s story "The Old Forest," produced and directed by Steven J. Ross of Memphis State University, premieres in Memphis in November.
  • 1985 The Old Forest and Other Stories is published in February.
  • 1986 The Old Forest and Other Stories wins the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. A Woman of Means and the Collected Stories are reissued in paperback. Frederic C. Beil brings out a limited edition of Taylor’s revised version of A Stand in the Mountains. Taylor suffers a stroke on 24 July. His novel A Summons To Memphis is published in October. Taylor withdraws the novel from the final list of three nominees for the American Book Award.
  • 1987 Taylor wins the Ritz Hemingway Prize for A Summons To Memphis. Taylor wins the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for A Summons To Memphis.
  • 1989 Taylor wins the Internal Literary Prize Chianti Ruffino Antico Fattore.
  • 1990 Kenyon review publishes Cousin Aubrey and The Witch of Owl Mountain Springs - both of which were rejected by the New Yorker.
  • 1993 The Oracle At Stoneleigh Court is published.
  • 1994 Taylor’s novel In The Tennessee Country is published.
  • Peter Taylor passed away on November 2, 1994 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Biographical and Historical Notes are from:

  1. 1. Conversations with Peter Taylor. Edited by Hubert H. McAlexander. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 1987.
  2. 2. Peter Taylor: A Writer’s Life. Hubert H. McAlexander. Louisiana State University Press, 2001.


8.82 Linear Feet


The papers of Peter Hillsman Taylor (1917-1994) were purchased by Vanderbilt University in 1995, and are an important addition to the Jean and Alexander Heard Library’s Special Collections. The papers and correspondence (1988-1992), are an addition to a significant collection of Taylor’s pre-1988 letters and manuscripts. Taylor, who died in 1994 in Charlottesville, Virginia, received a Pulitzer Prize for his novel, A Summons to Memphis, which was published in 1986. He attended Vanderbilt as an undergraduate in the late 1930s. Taylor’s influences included John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, and Robert Penn Warren, members of the Fugitive and Agrarian literary movements.

Physical Location

Special Collections & Archives

Finding Aid for the Peter Taylor Papers Addition
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Vanderbilt University Special Collections Repository

Jean and Alexander Heard Library
419 21st Avenue South
Nashville TN 37203 United States


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