Rare Book & Manuscript Library

William J. Higginson Papers, 1950-2007

Summary Information


The William J. Higginson Papers consist primarily of correspondence with other poets and authors. There is also a sizable amount of Higginson's writings, including his manuscript, The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku as well as many poems by both Higginson and his colleagues.

At a Glance

Call No.: MS#1468
Bib ID 7351663 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Higginson, William J., 1938-
Title William J. Higginson Papers, 1950-2007
Physical Description 27 linear feet (23 record cartons 3 flat boxes)
Language(s) Collection is predominantly in English with some writings in Japanese.

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

This collection has no restrictions.



This collection is arranged in 7 series.



This collection documents the professional life of poet, translator, and literary historian, William J. Higginson. The bulk of the papers are correspondence and writings. Correspondence consists of letters between Higginson and fellow scholars and poets. The writings include drafts of Higginson's manuscript, The Haiku Handbook, numerous poems, and articles about the history and craft of writing Japanese Poetry. There is also a small amount of photographs, multimedia materials, and ephemera.

  • Series I: Correspondence, 1966-2007

    Series I hold letters from Higginson's friends and colleagues as well as various Haiku societies and organizations. Often colleagues and admirers would send Higginson various poems that they had written for him to criticize or comment on.

  • Series II: Writings, 1960-2007

    Higginson's writings contain research, drafts, and notes for various projects such as Butterfly Dreams, The Haiku Handbook, and The Haiku Seasons. The series also has correspondence relating to the creation of these projects and about Haiku in general, proofs of Haiku Magazine volumes 5-6, and poetry written by Higginson in collaboration with colleagues.

  • Series III: Writings by Others, undated

    This small series consists of poetry and small essays written by friends and colleagues of Higginson. The bulk of the pieces are undated and in many cases the author is not identified.

  • Series IV: Subject Files, 1973-2005

    Series IV is comprised of printed material such as pamphlets, awards and certificates. There are also files concerning haiku and renku as well as publishing-related documents.

  • Series V: Multimedia, 1970s-1990s

    Computer disks with backups of Higginson's writings and audio recordings of poetry readings are held in this series.

  • Series VI: Photographs, 1950s-2000

    Photographs of Higginson and Penny Harter at various poetry functions both within the United States and Japan are in Series VI. Events documented include the Global Renku Symposium and meetings of the Haiku Society of America. Of interest is a photograph of Allen Ginsburg with poet Anne Waldman from 1979. In addition to the photographs, there are a fair amount of slides and negatives.

  • Series VII: Ephemera, 1980s

    Series VII contains a variety of realia including buttons, cards and paper products, prints of artwork, cloth and other textiles. Several scrapbooks documenting Higginson's trips through Japan in the 1980s are held in this series.

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Restrictions on Access

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

This collection has no restrictions.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); William J. Higginson Papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

Papers processed Lea Osborne, Carrie Hintz, Elena Locascio, Elizabeth Nolte 08/2008.

Revision Description

2009-09-04 File created.

2009-09-15 xml instance created by Lea Osborne.

2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Visual poetry Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Haiku Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Haiku -- History and criticism Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Haiku -- Technique Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Haiku -- Translations into English Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Harter, Penny Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Higginson, William J., 1938- Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Poetry Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical / Historical

William J. Higginson spent over forty years studying traditional Japanese poetry. His interest in this subject led him to publish numerous books and articles on the teaching and writing of Haiku and he became one of the foremost authorities on the collaborative form of poetry writing, renku.

Higginson was born on December 17, 1938 in New York City to parents William J. and Nellie (Roby) Higginson Mackay. He first began studying Japanese at Yale University and discovered haiku at this time. Higginson served in the United States Air Force in the late 1950s, during which he was stationed in Misawa, Japan. He continued studying Japanese poetry throughout his deployment. Some years after his return, he went to college on the G.I. Bill and graduated with honors from Southern Connecticut State University in 1969 with a B.A. in English.

After a short stint teaching, Higginson became a Consultant in Writing and the Teaching of Writing in 1972, a job that he held for the rest of his life. He was a charter member of the Haiku Society of America, which as founded in 1968 and served as President in 1976, as well as the editor and publisher of Haiku Magazine. Other publications include three collections of poetry and haiku and numerous essays in anthologies and reference works. His poems, essays, and translations appear in the following periodicals and journals: American Book Review, Center, Footwork, Frogpond, Imprint (Hong Kong), Madrona, Newsweek Japan, Open Magazine, ProFiles, Shearsman (London), Sparrow, Sun, and Telegram (London).

Higginson has published several books in the field, perhaps the most prominent being The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share and Teach Haiku (1985), a book that uses examples, many of which were not previously available, from Japanese and other languages. This was a collaborative effort between Higginson and his wife, poet and author Penny Harter. Unique to the book are teaching tools, such as lesson plans, a reference section, and lists of haiku publishers and magazines. A follow-up book entitled The Haiku Seasons expands on the teaching model and gives a comprehensive history of the form. Higginson also published Wind in the Long Grass, an international anthology of haiku for children.

Higginson was active in several professional organizations, most notably P.E.N. American Center, the Poetry Society of America, the National Writers Union (U.S.), the New Jersey Task Force on Literacy in the Arts, and the Association of New Jersey County Cultural and Historical Agencies.

William J. Higginson died on October 11, 2008 after battling cancer. He is survived by his wife, Penny Harter.