H. Willard Reninger Papers, 1932-1985

Collection Overview

Title: H. Willard Reninger Papers, 1932-1985

Record Series: 14/03/02/02

Record Group:

14/03/02 Faculty & Staff Papers

Creator: Reninger, H. Willard

Date: 1932-1985

Extent: 7 boxes (2.92 linear feet)

Repository: Special Collections and University Archives, Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa.

Language: Materials entirely in English.

Information for Users

Accessing the Collection:

No restrictions. Materials are open for research.

Physical Access: Photocopies of the original Ernest Hemingway letters were created for research use.

Sensitive Materials Statement: Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy or similar laws, and the Iowa Open Records Law (see Iowa Code § 22.7). Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in this collection without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the University of Northern Iowa assumes no responsibility.

Preferred Citation: [Identification of item], in the [Series Title] #[series number], [folder number or title when applicable], [Collection Name], Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa.

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Historical Note

Harry Willard Reninger was born March 20, 1900, in Youngstown, Ohio. He received his academic degrees from the University of Michigan: his B. A. in 1924, his M. A. in 1927, and his Ph. D. in 1938.


Professor Reninger started his teaching career as a high school teacher in Detroit but soon moved on to college level teaching. He taught at the Michigan State Normal College as well as the University of Michigan before coming to the Iowa State Teachers College in 1939 as an associate professor of English. Professor Reninger was promoted to Head of the English Department in 1940. In 1943 he took a leave of absence in order to join the US Navy. He was commissioned a Lieutenant Senior Grade and sent to Missouri to teach in the V-12 program.

Professor Reninger was an important member of the college administration. Along with Professor William C. Lang and other faculty members, he helped to develop the new Humanities program for the college. In addition, he sat on the committee that suggested changing the name of the Iowa State Teachers College to State College of Iowa. In 1961 Professor Reninger was named a Fulbright Scholar and went to India for a year to teach American Literature at the University of Gorakhpur and Lucknow University.

Professor Reninger's most famous student was Mona Van Duyn, who was appointed US Poet Laureate and won a Pulitzer Prize for her poetry. He is also remembered for bringing James Hearst, one of Iowa's finest poets, to the college faculty.

Professor Reninger retired in 1968 but came back to the University in 1970 to serve as Acting Vice President. He served in that position for one year.

He was a scholar as well as a teacher and administrator. He published articles in journals such as American Literature and American Schoolmaster. Professor Reninger also co-authored several publications including an American literature textbook designed specifically for Indian students; Interpreting Literature (1960), a textbook that went through a number of editions; and "A Psychological Approach to Literary Criticism" (1933).

Professor Reninger was active in several organizations. He was a member of the Modern Language Association of America, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the American Association of University Professors. He was a member of the Iowa College Conference on English and served as its President from 1946-1948 and its Vice President from 1941-1942.

H. W. Reninger died December 13, 1988. He was survived by his wife Bette, son John, and daughter Katherine.  

Scope and Content

Perhaps the highlight of this collection is a series of four letters written to Professor Reninger by Ernest Hemingway between 1930 and 1933. The originals have restricted access, but there is a folder containing photocopies of the letters, and another with typewritten transcriptions. The Hemingway estate maintains a copyright on the contents of the letters, so we are unable to reproduce direct quotes or images here.  In some of the letters Hemingway discusses literary theory and what it takes to be a good creative writer. Most of the correspondence, however, concerns an unnamed book Dr. Reninger had written, for which he requested both an introduction and a review by Hemingway. Hemingway politely declined. He claimed introductions are of no use and reviews, whether positive or negative, have pitfalls. In the case of the review, he was also pressed for time, as he was just about to board a ship bound for Spain.



Box 1

Reninger, H. Willard: Personal material (includes correspondence, obituary, press releases, resume, and essays by and about Dr. Reninger)

Reninger, H. Willard: Personal material (includes correspondence, photograph, press release, and watercolor paintings)

Course: American Literature, 1865-Present (refers researcher to a folder in the Bill Waack papers)

Correspondence, 1930-1983

  • 1930-1933, Ernest Hemingway (originals, RESTRICTED ACCESS)
  • 1930-1933, Ernest Hemingway (photocopies and typed transcriptions)
  • 1949, George Sampson
  • 1952-1983, letters and documents relating to the university
  • 1977-1983, friends
  • 1978-1983, Dr. K.L. Knickerbocker and publisher about Interpreting Literature

Material concerning Ernest Hemingway, undated (2 folders; includes typewritten transcriptions of the Hemingway letters)

Photographs of Ernest Hemingway's house in Key West, undated

Reninger Lecture Series, 1972-1983

Writings, ca. 1935-1979

  • ca. 1935, "The Contemporary American Novel" (notes for essay)
  • 1937, "Man's Eternal Struggle for Unity" (essay)
  • 1939, "American Letters and the Rights of Man" (essay)
  • 1940, "The Novelist Reveals Modern America" (essay)
  • 1941, "The Making of the American Mind" (address for summer convocation)
  • 1941, "The Meaning of Contemporary American Literature" (essay)
  • 1942, "American Literature, the Classroom, and the War" (essay; 2 copies)
  • 1942, "Teaching Literature" (essay)
  • 1944, "Captain's Salute" (address to Park College graduating class)
  • 1944, "Post-War Education" (essay; includes correspondence)
  • 1947, "What is College For?" (essay)
  • 1951, "The American Tradition and the Rights of Man" (essay)
  • 1952, "Statement to the Faculty Concerning Academic Freedom in the Humanities" (address)
  • 1956, "The New Asylum: Education without Discipline" (essay)
  • 1959, Hazel Strayer Memorial (address)
  • 1960, "What Do We Mean--Professional?" (essay)
  • 1964, "Problems of International Scholarship" (essay)
  • 1965, "'This Disease is Beyond my Practice'" (essay)
  • 1977, "The Modern Poet as Prophet, Critic, and the National Conscience..." (essay)
  • 1977, Untitled (address to St. Luke's Episcopal Church regarding science and religion)
  • 1978, "Some Attitudes Found in Religious Poetry" (essay)
  • 1979, "The Annual Drama of Selecting English Textbooks (essay; includes correspondence)
  • 1984, "The Century Flower" (poem)
  • Undated, "Young Aron's pipe" (poem)

News clippings, 1938-1939

Photographs, 1956-1959

Box 2

Proposed poetry-reading group, undated

List of books owned by H. Willard Reninger, 1970

Supper club papers, 1977-1984 (2 folders)

Speech by Edward Kennedy to Democratic Convention, 1980

Material concerning James Hearst (includes correspondence, poetry, and news clippings), 1983-1984

Correspondence, 1978-1986

  • 1978-1982, John Kamerick
  • 1981-1986, Bill Maucker
  • 1982, Preston W. Slosson
  • 1982-1984, concerning the seventh edition of Interpreting Literature
  • 1983, Robley Wilson, Blair Wood, and other friends
  • 1984, Mavis Ulrick, Art Robinson, and Henry Van Engen
  • 1985, Mr. and Mrs. Parke Behn

Writings, 1941-1982

  • 1941, The American Literary Conflict (book)
  • 1959-1984, memorial addresses, Hazel Strayer, Amy Stageberg, Elaine Stageberg, Joe Fox, Jim Hearst, Norman Stageberg
  • 1977, Untitled address at St. Luke Episcopal Church, Cedar Falls
  • 1982, “Sima, the Tailor” (short story)

Box 3

Writings, 1961-1969

  • 1961, “Frost’s A Masque of Reason: A Drama of Serious Humor” (essay)
  • 1962, Address to English Society
  • 1962-1963, essays about Carl Sandburg (includes photos and news clippings)
  • 1969, “The Poetry of Robert Frost” (essay)
  • Undated, “Modern American Poetry” (essay)
  • Undated, “Procedure for the Study of Eliot’s Poetry” (notes for essay)
  • Undated (but before 1965), “T.S. Eliot (1888-      )”
  • Undated, “T.S. Eliot as Literary Critic” (essay; 2 copies)

Poetry by others, 1944 and undated

  • 1944, "The Four Bastards," by Ogden Nash
  • Undated, “The Man Against the Sky,” by Edward Arlington Robinson
  • Undated, “A Masque of Reason,” by Robert Frost (includes essays by other writers, ca. 1976)

Material about authors, 1941-1972

  • 1941-1963, Robert Frost (2 folders; includes photo, correspondence, and chapbooks)
  • 1948-1972, T. S. Eliot (includes Eliot’s poem, “The Cultivation of a Christmas Tree”)
  • 1962-1963, Carl Sandburg

Box 4

Writings, 1932-ca. 1962

  • 1932, “The Genesis and Meaning of ‘Nature’ in Pope’s Essay on Criticism” (essay; includes class notes)
  • 1937, “Approach to Whittier” (essay; includes chronology and Whittier poem “The Eternal Goodness”)
  • Undated, “Edward Arlington Robinson (1869-1935)” (essay; includes bibliography)
  • Undated (but ca. 1932), “Genteel Tradition (essay)
  • Undated (but after 1962), “The Prophetic Realism of Robinson Jeffers” (essay)
  • Undated, Transcendentalism (notes, bibliography)

Material about authors, ca, 1936-ca. 1962

  • ca. 1936, Mark Twain
  • 1959-1965, Joseph Conrad (2 folders)
  • 1982-1983, Archibald MacLeish
  • Undated but ca. 1957, Thomas Wolfe
  • Undated but after 1962, Robinson Jeffers
  • Undated, Edward Arlington Robinson, (includes letters)
  • Undated, Walt Whitman

Box 5

Teaching notes, undated

  • For reading Shakespeare’s sonnets
  • On Hamlet
  • On King Lear
  • On MacBeth
  • On Othello

Book: Interpreting Literature, by K.L. Knickerbocker and H. Willard Reninger, 1978-1979

  • 1978, Sixth edition
  • 1978, Instructor’s manual for sixth edition
  • 1979, Shorter edition

Box 6

Book: Interpreting Literature, by K.L. Knickerbocker and H. Willard Reninger, 1955-1974

  • 1955, First edition (2 copies)
  • 1960, Revised (second) edition
  • 1965, Third edition
  • 1969, Fourth edition
  • 1974, Fifth edition

Box 7

Books, 1963 and 1985

  • 1963, The Holy Bible (signed by Dr. Reninger; presented as a gift to him by the Speech staff)
  • 1985, Interpreting Literature, by K. L. Knickerbocker and H. Willard Reninger, Seventh edition

Processing Information

Collection processed by University Archivist Gerald L. Peterson, 1990. Updated by Library Associate Dave Hoing, January 2017 and April 2018. Linear feet updated September 13, 2017.