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Irwin Cohen collection

 Collection 0016-LIT

Irwin Cohen (1947- ), a bibliophile and book collector, is manager of the Time Warner, Inc., Bookstore in New York City. When was in high school, Mr. Cohen first encountered and read Djuna Barnes's Nightwood, which led him to collect works by and about her. He eventually met Miss Barnes, when his wife, Francesca Belanger, then senior designer at Dial Press was assigned to Miss Barnes's last book, Creatures in an Alphabet. The Cohen collection consists of artwork, clippings, manuscripts, proofs, photographs, and publications by and about Djuna Barnes and her era. Materials related to the publication of Creatures in an Alphabet form a large part of the collection. The books that came with the collection were seperated for cataloging. An index of the 41 books removed from the collection is avaialbe upon request.


  • 1896-1995

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.


4.50 Linear Feet

Scope and Contents

The Irwin Cohen collection contains artwork, clippings, manuscripts, proofs, photographs, and publications by and about Djuna Barnes and her era. A significant portion of the collection focuses on the publication of Creatures in an Alphabet, a book of Barnes's poetry released posthumously. Also included is a wide assortment of serial publications dating from 1915 to 1938. The entire collection spans the period 1896 to 1982, with the bulk of the material falling in two distinct periods: 1911-1923 and 1982, the year in which Creatures in an Alphabet was published.


Irwin Cohen was born in Brooklyn, New York, on October 21, 1947, the second son of Lillian and Murray Cohen. He spent the first twenty years of his life in Brooklyn before moving to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to attend the University of Fort Lauderdale. After graduation, Cohen moved to Manhattan and began working for Time Inc., managing their employee bookstore. He is currently manager of the Time Warner Inc. Bookstore. Cohen married Francesca Belanger, a senior designer for Viking publishing company in 1981. They maintain residences in New York City and Kent, Connecticut.

Cohen first became aware of Djuna Barnes's work when he was in high school.

"[M]y mother gave me a dollar a day for food, and two dollars pocket money on each day of the weekend To this day she doesn't know I kept the nine dollars. I didn't eat, figuring I'd be fed at night, and kept the money to spend on books. Every Friday and Saturday night I traveled from Brooklyn into Manhattan via the picturesque "D" line, the subway which crosses over the Manhattan Bridge.

"My favorite bookstore was the famous and greatly-missed 8th Street Bookstore, renowned for the quality and variety of its selection.

"One night, browsing through the fiction section, I came upon the book that changed my life: Nightwood. Its title, the extraordinary photograph of the three leaves on the New Directions paperback cover, caused such a strong reaction, that thirty years later, it is still my classic Proustian experience. It was mystery itself. Somehow I knew that this book would be important to me. And when I turned the book over and gazed at the photo of its author, I knew this book and this woman were about to change my life.

"Seeing the photograph of Djuna Barnes was the end of my adolescence and the beginning of something unknown: I fell in love.

"I read Nightwood and was moved beyond anything I could imagine by Djuna Barnes's exquisite prose. There has not been a time when I reread the book that it did not mean something different to me, depending on my state of mind. Each time I go back to it I encounter new treasures."

Barnes's writing inspired in Cohen a passion for book collecting. He discovered the House of Books, a shop owned by Marguerite Cohn on New York's Madison Avenue.

"I went to the shop, walked in, and spoke to the owner of my new passion for Djuna Barnes. I was amazed by what she told me.

The day before, Ms. Cohn had just purchased a collection that contained, among other items, The Collected Works of Djuna Barnes, inscribed by the author to Natalie Barney. The inscription read, 'After all these years with the author's affection, Djuna Barnes.'

"I was stunned.

"This was the beginning of a journey that lasted twenty years. I was determined to collect everything by her and associated with her. In approximately my fifteenth year of collecting, an extraordinary thing happened.

"My wife, Francesca, was the senior designer at The Dial Press, and was assigned to work on Djuna Barnes's last book Creatures in an Alphabet. Miss Barnes's editor, Frances McCullough, took Francesca to meet Djuna Barnes at her tiny Patchin Place apartment. My surprise and delight at this turn of events were overwhelming. I loved the thought that my wife was working on a new book by my favorite author.

"Ms. McCullough thought that perhaps I might be of some service to Miss Barnes–perhaps organizing her papers, or whatever she might need–and offered to arrange a meeting.

"The idea frightened me to death. Djuna Barnes was someone I had loved from afar. Did I really want to meet her and risk having years' worth of dreams shattered?

"I didn't know how to respond at first, but I finally agreed.

"It was one of the best decisions, though ultimately the saddest, I have ever made.

"I courted her. I brought fancy food items from Balducci's, the gourmet store in Greenwich Village, to tempt her nearly non-existent appetite. But all she really wanted was a concoction that we often shared long past midnight on our nights together–Haagen-Daz coffee Ice cream in a glass of ginger ale.

"She was so set in her ways I was never really able to organize anything for her, but we had a number of long visits during which I listened entranced to her stories and observations.

"Some of my happiest memories are from those nights. She was witty and clever. I saw glimpses of the glamorous, intelligent, beautiful woman of the Berenice Abbott photographs, the woman I wished I could have known when those photographs were taken.

"But the darkness that was such a part of her being finally made its presence felt and I had to stop visiting her.

"Still, I am so grateful to have met her. She made me laugh 'til I cried." (Irwin Cohen's account is taken from his 25 October 1999 letter to Beth Alvarez and Adina Wachman.)


This collection consists of five series:

Series 1
Series 2
Printed Mattter
Series 3
Serial Publications
Series 4
Series 5

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

The University of Maryland Libraries received the collection as a gift from Irwin Cohen in December 1998.

Related Material

The University of Maryland Libraries acquired four Barnes-related items from Irwin Cohen before this collection was processed. In July 1997, Mr. Cohen donated three of Barnes's original ink drawings, two of which were published as illustrations for her written work. These three drawings were incorporated into the Papers of Djuna Barnes, Series VIII: Art, and numbered III.104-106. Mr. Cohen sold another of Barnes's ink drawings to the Libraries in June 1999. This work, also incorporated into the Papers of Djuna Barnes, Series VIII, and numbered III.107, appears to be an earlier version of an illustration published in Barnes's novel Ryder.

In addition to the Papers of Djuna Barnes, the University of Maryland Libraries' holdings include the Barnes Family Papers, the Papers of Saxon Barnes, the Papers of James Stern, and the Papers of Phillip Herring. Important correspondence between Djuna Barnes and Emily Coleman can also be found in the Emily Holmes Coleman Papers at the University of Delaware Library, in Newark, Delaware.

Separated Materials

Publications which arrived with Cohen's papers have been separated from archival materials and cataloged. Researchers can find publications in the Rare and Archival Reference collections housed in Hornbake Library. For a complete index of publications removed from the collection, contact the collection's curator at

Guide to the Irwin Cohen collection
Processed by Adina Wachman.
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