TABLE OF CONTENTS
Scharmel Iris Papers, The Newberry Library, Chicago.
Gift, Scharmel Iris, 1966.
Virginia Hay Smith, 2008.
The Scharmel Iris Papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room.
Ownership and Literary Rights
The Scharmel Iris Papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections.
Born in Italy in 1889 as Frederico Scaramella, Iris and his mother arrived in Chicago when he was three. The name Scharmel Iris was the choice of a young, hopeful poet whose first efforts were published in 1905 and who continued publishing until the 1960s. With only a small talent, but obsessed with a need to be regarded as a major American poet, Iris resorted to imposture, plagiary and forgery to concoct a fantasy role for himself as an impoverished, neglected poetic genius, deserving to be an important figure on the literary scene.
One of Iris’s most successful scams was to write pseudonymous letters of puffery about himself, or to solicit support and funds, under the name Vincent Holme. All his life, he was persistent in his quest for publication and attention, and he was shameless in inventing links to famous writers and artists of his day, ranging from T.S.Eliot to W.B Yeats, and Salvatore Dali to Picasso. Using several pseudonyms, Iris got poems into issues of Harriet Monroe’s Poetry among other places. He proudly managed the publication of several small collections of poems, saw reviews of his work in the Chicago newspapers, forged endorsements from the well-known, and did everything he could to keep his name before the public.
Having established a connection with Lewis College, a Catholic institution near Joliet, Iris used it first as his address and then as his home. He never taught there and had no faculty status, and when asked to leave in 1966, he moved to St. Patrick Retirement Hotel in Joliet, where he died in 1967. During his lifetime, how he managed to subsist on meager sales is somewhat of a mystery, although he was skilled in arousing pity and raising donations from people.
Scharmel Iris’s strange and interesting life and career has been fully described in a book entitled Forging Fame, by Craig Abbott, published in 2007 by Northern Illinois University Press.
Small collection of letters, poetry and miscellany. Among the twenty-five letters to Iris are ones from Vincent Sheean, George Santayana, Mark Van Doren, Augustus John, Adlai Stevenson, and Edith Franklin Wyatt. Also, a group of poems, a few clippings and items of memorabilia, and several photographs, one of which shows Iris with Eleanor Roosevelt.
Arranged in three folders by type of material.
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