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Russell Thorburn papers

Identifier: MSS-157

Scope and Contents

This collection consists of the unpublished and published manuscripts and correspondence of Russell Thorburn from 1977-2013. The collection also includes audio CDs of Thorburn's poems and plays and photographs from a book signing. Of particular note to the researcher are the published and unpublished manuscripts of Thornburn’s literary work. The collection contains numerous drafts of edited poetry, manuscripts, plays, and the beginnings of Thorburn’s works of art.

Series Descriptions:

Record Series I. Correspondence, 1977-2010. (18 folders). This series is arranged by subject and the folders include written correspondence, postcards, and emails. These are identified by correspondent: Ross Tharaud, Roberta Herter, Johnathon Johnson, Rod Torreson, and Publishers, as well as, personal correspondence.

Record Series II. Creative Works, (34 folders). This series is arranged by subject. The folders contain drafts of manuscripts and plays: "Father, Tell Me I Have Not Aged;" "The Trees Counted to Where One Bent in Heartache;" Scenes From the Night of a Drunken Piano;" "Love Poems & Other Desires;" "Misfit Hearts;" "Happy Birthday, James Joyce;" "The Playback;" "Dylan Thomas in New York;" "The Whole Tree as Told to the Backyard." There are folders containing miscellaneous edited poetry, covers from published manuscripts, book reviews, and the Mojave National Preserve Project. Printed editions of Thorburns books are located in the Special Collections Library of the Archives: "Approximate Desire: Poems;" "Father, Tell Me I Have Not Aged;" "The Drunken Piano: Poems;" "The Whole Tree As Told to the Backyard;" and "Misfit Hearts."

Record Series III. Audio/Visual, (4 folders). This series is arranged by subject. The are two folders containing Audio CDs of four plays written by Russell Thorburn: "Happy Birthday, James Joyce;" "An Earful of Poems;" "The Playback;" and "Quebec Letters." The photographs in this series are of family and from book signing events. There are also newspaper clippings, publicity materials, and copies of performance flyers.


  • 1977-2013


Conditions Governing Access

No restrictions. Open for research.

Conditions Governing Use note

Permission to publish material from the Russell Thorburn papers, MSS-157, must be obtained from the University Archivist. The University Archivist may be reached by phone at 906-227-1225, or e-mail, The University Archivist may also be reached in Room 126 of the Learning Resource Center, Northern Michigan University, Marquette, MI.

Biographical note

Russell Thorburn grew up in Birmingham, Michigan, attending Holy Name Elementary and Brother Rice High School. He moved to Marquette in 1974 and enjoyed spending much of his time reading with former NMU professors John VandeZande and Phil Legler at a local bookstore, playing music, and living with his girlfriend. In 1982, Thorburn married Emily Wood, and they have three sons: Gabriel, the oldest, has been the assistant editor for Warner Brothers; Christopher, and Michael. In 1985, Thorburn received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Northern Michigan University. He received his Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Western Michigan University in 1988. Thorburn works as an adjunct associate professor of English at Northern Michigan University. Over the years, he received numerous grants from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs to support his writing. As a poet in residence for Upper Peninsula public schools, Thorburn has taught poetry workshops and inspired students to write creatively. Thorburn served as artist-in-residence at the Mojave National Preserve in the winter of 2013. He has also been featured in the NMU Alumni publication, Northern Horizons, and is a nominee for UP Poet Laureate.

Russell Thorburn is an established poet. Between 1993 and 1996 he taught at Marquette Branch Prison. During the mid-1990s, his poems would appear regularly in The Quarterly, a New York City-based magazine run by Gordon Lish. He co-authored two books with Robert Bixby, "The Company of Widows (1991)" and "Henry Zender: Poems (1996)". In 1999, Russell’s first book, "Approximate Desire: Poems," was published by Western Michigan University’s New Issues Press with the help of David Dodd Lee and Herb Scott. In that same year, he also received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship to write a book of poems. After receiving the Central Upper Peninsula Planning and Development (CUPPAD) Art Minigrant in 2001, Thorburn began writing two radio plays: "The Playback" and "Happy Birthday, James Joyce." Patrick Lynch, a local musician, provided original music for both plays. "Happy Birthday, James Joyce" aired four times on WNMU-FM. Both plays were performed Off-Broadway in 2002. Thorburn also wrote "Growing up Irish." Other published books include: "The Weight of Umber and Sienna: Poems (2001)," "Father, Tell Me I Have Not Aged: Poems (2006)," "The Drunken Piano: Poetry by Russell Thorburn (2009)," "The Whole Tree as Told to the Backyard: Poems (2009)," and "Misfit Hearts (2012)." Thorburn was also the editor for anthologies of teen poetry: "Wheat Field with Poems and Crows (2004)," "Pencils on Fire (2005)," and "Word River (2006)."


1 Cubic Feet (1 archival box)

Language of Materials



This collection is arranged by topic and consists of three record series: Correspondence; Creative Works; and Audio/Visual materials.

Custodial History

Gift received from Russell Thorburn in January 2008 with additional materials donated in 2013.

Separated Materials

Five of Russell Thorburn's books: "Approximate Desire: Poems"; "Father, Tell Me I Have Not Aged: Poems"; The Drunken Piano: Poems"; "The Whole Tree as Told to the Backyard"; and "Misfit Hearts: Poems", as well as, photographs were moved to various locations within the archives.

Russell Thorburn papers
Glenda K. Ward, 2013 Brandy Geraci, 2008
May 2008
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Central Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan University Archives Repository

Harden Learning Resources Center 126
1401 Presque Isle Ave
Marquette 49855 United States
906-227-1333 (Fax)


This collection guide includes collections from member organizations of UPLINK (the Upper Peninsula Digital Network) as well as the Central Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan University Archives. UPLINK collections document the history of the Upper Peninsula broadly, while the Central UP & NMU Archives focuses on such topics as Northern Michigan University history, the local iron mining industry, and the politics, economics, religion, environment, and culture of the Central Upper Peninsula region.

These finding aids will give you an overview of the contents and context of each collection. Finding aids only exist for collections that each organization has shared with UPLINK or (in the case of the NMU Archives) for processed collections. For a more comprehensive list of collections that might help with your research, please contact the relevant heritage organization(s) directly.

Northern Michigan University
1401 Presque Isle Ave. • Marquette, MI 49855-5301 • 906–227–1000
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