"Thomas McGrath was born in 1916, the oldest son of James and Catherine (Shea) McGrath. There were four younger brothers, Jim (killed in World War II), Joe, Martin, and the youngest, Jack. His sister Kathleen was born between Joe and Martin. His parents were farmers, the second generation of them, working the land in Ransom County, North Dakota, near the town of Sheldon, about forty miles west of the Minnesota border, between the Maple and Sheyenne Rivers.
McGrath went to grade and high school in Sheldon, and then started somewhat delayed and intermittent University studies at Moorhead State University. Eventually, he attended the University of North Dakota at Grand Forks, where he earned a B.A. in 1939. Awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, he found that he could not use it immediately, because of the outbreak of World War II. He had received offers from a number of universities to begin work on an advanced degree - as had other Rhodes Scholars that year - and accepted an offer from Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge. There he studied, most intensely with Cleanth Brooks, was involved in radical political activity, wrote, and met Alan Swallow, who published McGrath's first book of poems as part of the development of The Swallow Press.
In the 1940-1941 academic year McGrath taught at Colby College in Maine, but did not find teaching there entirely satisfactory and thus left at the end of the academic year to go to New York City. There he wrote, organized, did legal research for attorneys engaged in "political" cases, and worked at the Kearney Shipyards, until he entered the armed forces in 1942. Most of his time in the service was spent on Amchitka Island. He was discharged with the rank of sergeant in 1945. After a period of adjustment he was finally able to undertake the year of study provided by the Rhodes Scholarship and spent 1947-1948 at New College, Oxford, England.
Returning from the United States after some travel, McGrath engaged in various occupations and eventually found a faculty position at Los Angeles State University, where he taught from 1951 to 1954. His dismissal from this institution was directly connected with his appearance as an unfriendly witness before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, when that infamous body brought its hearings to Los Angeles in 1953.
From 1954 to 1960 McGrath worked variously as a secondary school teacher at a private institution, for a company that manufactured carved wooden animals, and at other jobs that might earn him his keep. He wrote film and television scripts from time to time, several of the former for director Mike Cimino. In 1960 he resumed his academic career, teaching at C.W. Post College (now part of Long Island University) in New York. At about this time he founded, with his wife Genia, the journal Crazy Horse.
In 1962 he returned to North Dakota, where he taught for five years at North Dakota State University at Fargo. In 1969 McGrath accepted a faculty position at Moorhead State University where he had first begun his studies as an undergraduate. At the end of the 1982-1983 academic year he retired from Moorhead State and moved to Minneapolis, where he now lives. [Note: Thomas McGrath died on 19 September 1990 in Minneapolis]
McGrath has held a variety of significant editorial positions and has been awarded a variety of distinguished prizes and fellowships for his work as a poet. Among the former, in addition to his founding editorship of Crazy Horse, he has been a contributing editor of Mainstream (later Masses and Mainstream) and has served on the editorial board of the California Quarterly. He has held an Amy Lowell Travelling Fellowship in Poetry (1965), has twice been awarded National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships (1974, 1982), was a Guggenheim Fellow in 1967, and was twice a Bush Fellow (1976, 1981). In May 1981 the University of North Dakota awarded him a Doctorate of Letters. In 1977 he received the Distinguished Achievement Award from the Society for Western Literature. In 1986, The Associated Writing Programs presented McGrath an award at a dinner in Chicago, at which tributes to him were presented by author "Studs" Terkel and poets Philip Levine and Michael Anania. In the same year, a "Ceili" was held by Minneapolis's "the Loft," at which many distinguished poets and writers celebrated McGrath's seventieth birthday.
McGrath has been married three times, to Marion, Alice, and Eugenia (Genia), all of whom appear in his poetry. He is the father of a son, Tomasito, to whom much poetry from McGrath's later work is addressed and dedicated."
Stern, Frederick. "A Biographical Sketch of Thomas McGrath." In The Revolutionary Poet in the United States: The Poetry of Thomas McGrath, edited by Frederick Stern. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1988.
Numerous donations to the collection have been received:
1970s: 8 January 1976; 1 April 1976; 1978 (78-492); 22 January 1979 (79-563)
1980s: Robert Lewis, English Department, University of North Dakota, in June 1985 (85-1394) and March 31, 1989 (89-1648); Dale Jacobson on 30 March 1987 (87-1526); James McKenzie, English Department, University of North Dakota on July 11, 1988 (88-1605); Robert Lewis, on March 31, 1989 (89-1648)
1990s: Lois Vossen, The Loft, St. Paul, Minnesota via Robert Lewis, English Department, University of North Dakota, on May 8, 1991 (91-7147); Jack Beeching, Menton, France, on April 16, 1992 (92-1816) and June 25, 1992 (92-1836); Robert Lewis, English Department, University of North Dakota, on August 15, 1991 (92-1818), March 24, 1992 (92-1817), on June 28, 1993 (93-1893), February 9, 1996 (96-2056) March 20, 1996 (96-2068) and June 16, 1999 (99-2318); Robert Edwards, St. Paul, Minnesota, on July 30, 1991 (92-1819); Naomi Stern, Gary, Indiana, on November 23, 1992; Richard F. Hampsten, English Department, University of North Dakota, on June 16, 1993 (93-1885); David Martinson, English Department, North Dakota State University, on 10 September 1993 (93-1910); Alice McGrath, Ventura, California, via Robert Lewis in January 1994 and February 9, 1996 (96-2055); Enid Smeall on September 29, 1994 (94-1998); Glenn Sheldon, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in October 1994 (94-1975); Lawrence Spingarn via Dale Jacobson on September 17, 1996; Richard Nickson of New York via Robert Lewis on May 13, 1996 (96-2075); James McKenzie, English Department, University of North Dakota, in May 1999 (99-2335); Richard Nickson, English Department, University of North Dakota, on July 27, 1999 (99-2358) and September 1, 1999 (99-2373)
2000s: Ellen Erickson, College of Art and Sciences, University of North Dakota, on July 5, 2000 (2000-2484); John Bye, Institute for Regional Studies at North Dakota State University on June 11, 2001 (2001-2505); Dr. Robert Lewis, English Department, University of North Dakota, on November 16, 2001 (2002-2543); Alice McGrath, Ventura, California, on May 27, 2004 (2004-2693) and August 31, 2004 (2005-2760); Mary Margaret Frank, Grand Forks, North Dakota, on August 17, 2006 (2006-2848); Glenn Sheldon, Department of Interdisciplinary and Special Programs, University of Toledo, on August 25, 2006 (2006-2849); Bjarne Male Chorus Records, on August 28, 2006 (2006-2847)
2010s: Holly Woolson, Ojai, California, on September 20, 2010 (2011-3074); Margo Robbins, Washington D.C., on January 23, 2017 (2017-3349)
Donation; the original acquisition records are unavailable
The Thomas McGrath Papers have been divided up into seven series:
Series 1: Biographical Materials
Series 2: Correspondence
Series 3: Written Works
Series 4: Screenplays/Scripts
Series 5: Audio and Video Cassette Tapes
Series 6: Photographs
Series 7: Oversized Materials