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Desmond Willson papers

 Collection 0099-LIT

South African diplomat Desmond Willson and Katherine Anne Porter became acquainted in Washington, DC. Their correspondence, initiated during 1961 when both maintained residences in Washington, DC, continued when Willson's diplomatic postings took him to San Francisco, South Africa, and Switzerland. The Desmond Wilson Papers include fifteen letters and postcards Porter sent him between June 10, 1961, and December 15, 1967. Subjects include her work, common friends, travel, current events, and her health. The collection also includes clippings and a publication.


  • 1956-1995
  • Majority of material found within 1961-1965

Use and Access to Collection

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff.


0.25 Linear Feet

Scope and Content of Collection

The Desmond Willson papers consist of fifteen letters and cards Porter wrote to Desmond Willson between June 10, 1961, and December 15, 1967, eight clippings from newspapers and magazines published between November 25, 1956, and August 20, 1995, and a copy of a privately published holiday carol.

Biographical / Historical

South African diplomat Desmond Willson and Katherine Anne Porter became acquainted in Washington, DC, before June 1961, when they began exchanging letters and cards. Porter wrote to Willson from the Yankee Clipper Inn in Rockport, MA, where she had withdrawn to complete her novel Ship of Fools, from her residences in Washington, DC, and from Paris, Rome, and Naples, where she had travelled after the novel's publication in 1962. Apparently Porter and Willson enjoyed social engagements in Washington, DC, with their mutual friends Jordan Pecile and Barbara Thompson, later Barbara Thompson Mueenuddin. Barbara Thompson's interview with Porter was published in the Winter-Spring 1963 issue of the Paris Review. Daniyal Mueenuddin, Barbara Thompson Mueenuddin's second son, was one of Porters godchildren.

In the correspondence in the Desmond Wilson Papers, Porter wrote of her work on and the publication of Ship of Fools, their mutual friends Barbara Thompson Mueenuddin and Jordan Pecile, her travels in France and Italy, national and world affairs, and her health. During the time that Porter and Willson corresponded, he served as Cultural Attaché at the Embassy of South Africa, Washington, DC; at the South African Consulate-General in San Francisco, CA; as Head of the Audio Visual Division, Ministry of International Affairs, in Pretoria, South Africa; and Counsellor for the South African Permanent Mission in Geneva, Switzerland.


This collection is divided into three series.

Series 1
Series 2
Series 3

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

The Desmond Willson papers were acquired in September 1998. Trustee for Porter's literary estate, Barbara Thompson Mueenuddin Davis, donated the correspondence and other items Willson had received and collected to the University of Maryland Libraries with additional materials for Isabel Bayley's papers. Bayley served as Porter's literary trustee until 1993, when Davis succeeded her. Davis's note included with the Willson papers stated, "This is a collection of notes etc. sent to me by my old friend Desmond Willson, who was to have accompanied KAP to Pakistan in the early 60's."

Related Material

The Papers of Katherine Anne Porter in the Special Collections holdings of the University of Maryland Libraries include a file containing Willson's correspondence to Porter and carbons of some of hers to him.

Processing Information

All materials were placed in acid-free folders in an acid-free box. Items were arranged in chronological order.

Guide to the Desmond Willson papers
Processed by Adam Cohen and Ruth M. Alvarez.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742