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William Burl Thomas Papers (Bowling Green, Ohio) - MS 1131

Introduction | Biographical Sketch | Scope and Content | Series Description | Inventory


The William Burl Thomas papers were donated to the Center for Archival Collections in January 2007 by David Anderson.

No restrictions exist on the use of this collection and duplication is permitted for research purposes. This finding aid was prepared by Lee N. McLaird, Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections in November 2009.

 Biographical Sketch

William Burl Thomas was born in 1906, in Ohio. Raised on the family farm in northwest Ohio, Thomas attended Ohio State University while working as a journalist.

Drawn to the creative side of writing, Thomas tried his hand, with modest success, as an essayist and fiction writer. His regular income was produced by teaching jobs at a variety of colleges around the Midwest, from Kansas to Michigan and Ohio. Eventually, he found himself teaching in the English Department at Bowling Green State University. He earned his doctorate in English from Bowling Green State University in 1968, shortly before his retirement.

Throughout his adult life, Thomas was an avid reader and book collector. At his death, he left a substantial book collection, including many first and early editions to his friend David Anderson. The collection was later donated to the BGSU library.

Twice married, both of Thomas’ marriages were childless. Thomas passed away November 16, 1987 in Findlay, Ohio.

 Scope and Content

The William Burl Thomas Papers, 1920-1987, document the writing career and collecting interests of a well-educated reader and writer. The material includes Thomas’ short stories, novels, essays, and academic papers. There is no documentation of his personal life beyond what might be surmised from the subjects of his fiction.

Thomas’ most active years as a professional writer took place from the 1920s and into the early 1940s. At that time, he maintained a notebook on his queries to publishers, his submissions and the publisher response, and the amount paid for accepted work. Most of his early work was aimed at popular magazines, including a small amount of work published in pulps. Influenced by Ohio writer Sherwood Anderson, Thomas wrote longer fiction that dealt with the experience of farm and small town life in the Midwest in the early years of the twentieth century. College teaching was also satirized. In his later years, he re-worked many of his short stories and essays for a projected book publication. A memoir went through a number of revisions, and may have gradually changed from fictional to documentary in form. These later works were never published, but may serve to provide examples of Thomas’ early work. Since the subject matter of his novels seems to have an autobiographical source, these works may be read for their historical as well as their social significance.

Of particular interest are the lists and notebooks Thomas maintained which document his reading and book collecting over the course of most of his adult life. Researchers interested in book collecting may use these notebooks for clues about how Thomas generated his want lists. As a reader and collector of general American and British authors, Thomas was able to gather first and early editions of a number of notable writers.

 Series Description


Arranged topically
Notes, drafts, bibliographies, and final draft of Thomas’ dissertation

Arranged alphabetically by title
Short essays and fiction submitted to publishers, including an anthology of short stories, novels, and memoirs.


No arrangement
A commonplace book containing quotations and story ideas

Documents stories and poetry submitted for publication, to whom submitted, response, and payment for publication.

Arranged by subject
Includes lists of musical recordings, a want list of American novels needed in the Ohio State University Library during the 1940s, and a reading list of American Novels, book dealers, reading in progress, and collecting want lists of Thomas’ as well as his collecting notes.


Scattered dates
Arranged by topic
Includes conference program material for the Society for Midwestern Literature and a small rhyming dictionary.


Box 1


  1. Dissertation proposal, notes, correspondence, 1967-1968
  2. Dissertation Committee comments, 1967-1968
  3. Bibliography for doctoral examination, 1967
  4. Dissertation research including correspondence with publishers, 1967
  5. Dissertation research and notes, 1967-1968
  6. Dissertation. The Novelist’s Point of View. Draft and comments, 1968
  7. Dissertation. The Novelist’s Point of View. Final draft, 1968

Box 2


  1. “Authors are Queer”. Essay series, 1940s
  2. Anthology of Essays, 1940s-1950s
  3. The Corn-cutter’s Wife and Other Stories, part 1, 1965
  4. The Corn-cutter’s Wife and Other Stories, part 2, 1965

Box 3


  1. The Corn-cutter’s Wife and Other Stories, part 3, 1965
  2. The Corn-cutter’s Wife and Other Stories, part 4, 1965
  3. The Country in the Boy (originally Scioto Farm, 1954), 1958
  4. The Country in the Boy (includes changes), 1960

Box 4


  1. The Country in the Boy (revisions and notes), 1966
  2. The Country in the Boy (final), 1966
  3. The Country in the Boy (draft, part 1), 1968
  4. The Country in the Boy (draft, part 2), 1968
  5. It Will Never Come Again, To Which is Added Notes from the Overground Pt 1, 1950s

Box 5


  1. It Will Never Come Again...Part 2, 1950s
  2. It Will Never Come Again...Notes and revisions, 1950s
  3. Bookman’s Pleasure (It Will Never Come Again, pt 3), 1950s
  4. Clinical Notes (It Will Never, pt. 4?), 1950s

Box 6


  1. The Road Taken (corrections and notes), 1960s
  2. The Road Taken (original), 1960s
  3. The Road Taken (final—“by Robert Berdan”), 1960s
  4. State University, 1940s

Box 7


  1. Manuscript. State University, 1940s
  2. Manuscript. What Men or Gods? 1940s
  3. Literature Study Guide. References and notes, 1948
  4. Notebook. Writing notes, quotations, n.d.
  5. Inventory. Household goods in Wichita, Kansas, n.d.

Box 8


  1. Notebook. Inactive Manuscripts Record, 1920-1940
  2. List. Musical Recordings, ca. 1960s
  3. List. Want List of American Novels (Ohio State University), 1940s
  4. List. Bibliographies--American Novels, 1789-1900; Chess fiction, 1940s
  5. List. Bookdealers, ca. 1950
  6. List. Reading in Progress, 1940s-1980s
  7. List. Books wanted by W. B. Thomas, 1950-1980
  8. List. Collecting want list, n.d.

Box 9


  1. Author List, A-D, n.d.
  2. Author List, E-J, n.d.
  3. Author List, K-P, n.d.
  4. Author List, Q-Z, n.d.
  5. Lists, Book collecting, n.d.
  6. Printed Material. Society for Midwestern Literature, 1974
  7. Printed Material. Little Blue Book. Rhyming Dictionary, 1925

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