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Helen Luster Collection

Identifier: PCMS-0056

Scope and Content Note

The Helen Luster collection, circa 1889-1988 (bulk 1967-1972), mainly covers her professional poetry work from New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Boulder, Colorado; and her coursework from Naropa University and other institutions covering topics such as poetics, physics, science, and parapsychology. Material includes holograph and typed manuscripts, correspondence, clippings, photographs, spiral bound notebooks, notes and poems written on napkins and other ephemera, flyers, conference catalogs, and personal documents. Of particular note is her Allen Ginsberg file containing correspondence, manuscripts, and appraisal information for her personal Ginsberg literary collection; her school work, journals and notebooks documenting classes that she took with Allen Ginsberg, Bernadette Mayer, Anne Waldman, William S. Burroughs, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti; correspondence with poets, critics, scientists, and science fiction writers; and her professional work, such as founding the Los Angeles Poetry Center.

The collection is organized in twelve series.

The manuscripts series contains manuscripts, and production material for published works as well as loose poems and writings. Luster's writings are interwoven through most of the series, but this series contains identified manuscript material by Helen or others. Published manuscripts include material related to Helen Luster's published poetry books including A Watcher from That Moment, Year of the Hare, and the heptology, I(EE). Materials include manuscripts, dummies, proofs, artwork, negatives, paste-ups, business material such as permissions and copyright forms, publicity, and reviews. More material for Year of the Hare and I(EE) book seven, Crystal, can be found in PCMS-0049, Manroot/Paul Mariah collection. Manroot was the publisher for these two books. Unpublished manuscripts contain titled and untitled manuscripts. Titled works include manuscripts for books that were never published including Tubular, Alice Kabbala, Horus, Mercurius and Sirius, as well as other small poems and working manuscripts.

The correspondence series contains correspondence, clippings, and photographs between and about other poets mostly. The largest correspondent file is between Luster and Herb Caen, a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Other correspondents of note are, but not limited to, Ronald Bayes, Yu Suwa, David Bromige, John Montgomery, Ann Waldman, Bernadette Mayer, and Gene Fowler. Luster also wrote to scientists and science fiction writers about her last book in the I(EE) series, Crystal. Of particular note are Carl Sagan and Robert Anton Wilson.

The Allen Ginsberg series documents Helen Luster's relationship, both social and professional, with Allen Ginsberg. Luster was his secretary at Naropa, took many of his classes, was his biographer, and had a large literary collection of Ginsberg's work. A majority of the series consists of correspondence between Charles Upton, Elizabeth Chandler (Betty Luster), Helen Luster, and Allen Ginsberg; and the corresponding book length manuscripts created from these letters under multiple working titles including the Oracle Letters. Also included are manuscripts for "ET and Me" a long poem; Sun, Moon, Bear Productions' appraisal for Luster's Ginsberg literary collection; and a directive in her will concerning dispersal of the collection and correspondence to be executed by Paul Mariah.

The professional work series contains material such as flyers, conference programs, notes, clippings, manuscripts and correspondence relating to Helen Luster's professional poetry and parapsychology work. Included is material related to the Los Angeles Poetry Center and the Russian River Writer's Guild; workshops, readings, conferences, festivals, and speeches; rejections and submissions to poetry magazines (Bombay Gin, Naropa); and translations of Aimé Césaire.

The research series includes clippings, notes, writings, and articles pertaining to different topics such as science, religion, cats, parapsychology, crystals, health, and other topics related to her writing. Series also includes four folders of bibliography notes and two folders of miscellaneous clippings.

The parapsychology series contains material related to Helen Luster's clairvoyant and psychic experiences. Materials include typed and holograph notes, diaries, journals, and poetry; and notes from seance and crystal visualization group meetings.

The school work series includes loose, mostly holograph, material related to Helen Luster's classes from New York to Los Angeles and many other identified and unidentified colleges and universities. A majority of the material is from Naropa University, Boulder, Colorado and includes the reading list for the master's comprehensive exam. Subjects include vocabulary, poetry, science, religion, and parapsychology. Additional coursework can be found in the journals series.

The journals series contains 65 holograph notebooks and 6 folders of loose typed pages from these notebooks. The notebooks are mostly Naropa class notes and poems, but also contain date books, diaries, miscellaneous notes, lists, and poetry.

The memorial series contains an obituary for Helen Luster written by Paul Mariah, correspondence, condolences, clippings, and ephemera related to her passing from cancer. Luster died March 3, 1985, in Santa Rosa, California.

The Elizabeth Chandler (Betty Luster) series contains correspondence between Helen luster and her sister; notes and writings from Elizabeth Chandler's trip to Central America in 1958; photographs and manuscripts.

The Donna Allan series contains estate papers for Donna and Richard Allan; poetry manuscripts and production material for Donna Allan's poetry; invitations to the white house from President McKinley; and newspaper clippings about Donna [Cope] Allan translating Japanese poetry.

The Photographs series contains photographs bearing artwork for Helen Luster's books; Luster's friends and family burying her ashes; and portraits and self-portraits, some cut into small pieces or cropped.


  • 1889-1988
  • Majority of material found within 1958-1985


Language of Materials


Language of Materials

Collection material in English.

Terms of Access and Use

The Helen Luster Collection is open for research.


Copyright of papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns. Researchers must obtain the written permission of the holder(s) of copyright and the Poetry Collection before requesting photocopies and/or publishing quotations from materials in the collection. Once permission is obtained, most papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures unless otherwise specified.

Biographical Note

Helen Luster, 1913-1985, was born in Evanston, Illinois. She was a political activist for peace and a poet for three decades. Luster was a co-editor of Trace literary magazine in Los Angeles, founder and president of the Los Angeles Poetry Center in 1966, and co-led poetry workshops in her home with Paul Mariah. She was a student at Naropa University, Boulder, Colorado for 10 years where she was also Allen Ginsberg's personal secretary. Helen Luster was also a student of parapsychology and active in that community. She was a member of seance and crystal groups and spoke at conferences on the subject of clairvoyance and synchronicity. A lot of her poetry is automatic writing.


15.25 Linear Feet (27 manuscript boxes, 2 half manuscript boxes, 2 cartons, 1 oversize box)


The Helen Luster Collection contains manuscripts for her nine published books and unpublished manuscripts; correspondence between poets, scientists, science fiction writers, and parapsychologists; material related to her personal and professional relationship with Allen Ginsberg including manuscripts documenting their correspondence and a long poem; notes and documentation of her professional work including founder and president of Los Angeles Poetry Center, readings, and parapsychology involvement; research files on various inspiration for her books and writing; psychic dream journals and paranormal event documentation; photographs; journals, notes, poetry, and coursework from various institutions from New York to San Francisco with the majority being from Naropa University, Boulder, Colorado. Elizabeth Chandler (Betty Luster), Helen's sister, and Donna Allan have small files of creative work and estate records near the end of the collection.


The Helen Luster collection is arranged in twelve series. I. Manuscripts; II. Correspondence; III. Allen Ginsberg; IV. Professional Work; V. Research; VI. Parapsychology; VII. School Work; VIII. Journals and Notebooks; IX. Memorial/Funerary; X. Elizabeth Chandler (Betty Luster); XI. Donna Allan; XII. Photographs.

Acquisition Information

Purchased as part of Manroot/Paul Mariah Collection from Serendipity Books in 1999. Accruals 2019 included with Manroot/Paul Mariah collection accruals purchased from Joi Hencey.

Accruals and Additions

No further accruals are expected to this collection.

Related Resources

This collection was separated from the Manroot/Paul Mariah Collection (PCMS-0049). Manroot published The Year of the Hare and Crystal and some manuscript and production material remains with Manroot. Correspondence from Helen Luster to Paul Mariah also remains in the Manroot collection.

Separated Materials

The following material has been integrated into the poetry collection. Items bearing notes and inscriptions have been photocopied and facsimiles have been placed in the manuscript collection.

  1. "California Federation of Chaparral Poets", vol. 17, no. 10, December 1956
  2. broadside:" the Wedding" by Helen Luster, signed
  3. "Construction XI" by Ronald H. Bayes, bearing handwritten note to Helen Luster
  4. "Variations" by Ronald H. Bayes, bearing handwritten note to Helen Luster
  5. "Tomorrow" by Yu Suwa, signed

Processing Information

Collection processed by Elliot McNally.

Processing Information

Items have been grouped together by common theme or by size and function in the case of photographs and journals. The collection came in folders with either titles or long notes and lists written on them by Helen Luster, Elizabeth Chandler (Betty Luster) or Paul Mariah. After Helen passed, her sister, Betty, partially organized the collection before it was put under the care of Paul Mariah, a colleague, friend and poet who took care of Helen in her final months. All titles have been transferred to archival folders, and where notes were present, the folder itself was placed in the new folders with the contents. Nothing has been consolidated or separated further. Multiples of photocopied manuscripts have been deaccessioned.


Finding aid for the Helen Luster Collection PCMS-0056
Finding Aid prepared by Elliot McNally.
Description rules
Finding Aid Prepared Using Local Best Practices
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the The Poetry Collection Repository

420 Capen Hall
Buffalo New York 14260-1674 US
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