SFU Library Special Collections: Contemporary Literature Collection

Collection features

As of February 2022, the Contemporary Literature Collection (CLC) is composed of:

  • approximately 20,000 books
  • extensive manuscript and archival holdings
  • over 1500 poetry broadsides and posters
  • over 1300 little magazines and periodicals
  • over 2500 audio and video recordings

Finding aids for many of the archival collections in the CLC are also available via SFU AtoM, and in paper format in the Special Collections and Rare Books reading room. The CLC has an online catalogue containing over 4500 entries covering 25,000 items; however this database is no longer being maintained.


Dating from the earliest days of the University, the Contemporary Literature Collection (CLC) is the oldest and largest collection in Special Collections and Rare Books. In 1965, the English Department and charter faculty member and Charles Olson scholar, Dr. Ralph Maud, began building a special collection comprised of little magazines, pamphlets, chapbooks, and ephemera representing the New American poetry and allied modern avant-garde literature for the period 1945–1965, with an emphasis on poetry.

The CLC grew from this nucleus. In the early 1970s, the English Department and SFU Library agreed on a policy to guide the development of the collection. Over the years it has evolved into a focused, in-depth, research collection of 20th- and 21st-century avant-garde, experimental, formally innovative, and "underground" writing in English. The collection consists predominantly of post-WWII postmodern writing—especially that of the various American groups identified in Donald Allen’s influential 1960 anthology, The New American Poetry. This includes movements like the Beats, the San Francisco Renaissance, the New York School, and the Black Mountain poets, led by Charles Olson.

Several editions of Allen Ginsberg's poem, Howl, from the Contemporary Literature Collection

Several editions of Allen Ginsberg's poem, Howl, from the Contemporary Literature Collection


Additionally, the CLC includes kindred Canadian poets/avant-gardists, such as the TISH and Coach House Press groups, and a number of British experimentalists. While emphasizing postwar "open form" writing, the collection also includes various early-century modernist precursors—such as Ezra Pound, W.C. Williams, Gertrude Stein, the Objectivists, and H.D.—as well as later poets seen as descendants of the mid-century groups, including the Kootenay School of Writing and the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets.

The CLC is a rich research resource for students and scholars of postwar and contemporary North American poetry. The CLC includes books of poetry, prose, criticism, anthologies, translations, bibliographies, reference works, little magazines and other literary periodicals, chapbooks, broadsides, limited editions, ephemera, and rarities. It also has extensive archival holdings representing numerous West Coast poets and publishers. Major fonds include those of Robin Blaser, Christian Bok, Frank Davey, Adeena Karasick, Roy Kiyooka, Daphne Marlatt, Michael McClure, bpNichol, Lisa Robertson, Warren Tallman, Fred Wah, Open Letter, and Talonbooks Publishers.

Books, personal papers, and action figures from the bpNichol fonds

Books, personal papers, and action figures from the bpNichol fonds


Additionally, the collection includes a large number of audio and video recordings documenting literary readings, poetics panels, and public performances. Much of the audio has been been digitized and eventually will be made available online via the SSHRC-funded SpokenWeb project.

Contact us

If you need help, please contact Tony Power, at 778-782-6676 or power@sfu.ca or Ask a librarian.