WELDON KEES HAS BEEN GONE FIFTY YEARS, BUT WHEN IT COMES TO THE DENVER PUBLIC LIBRARY, HE WROTE THE BOOK.WHERE'S WELDON KEES WHEN WE NEED HIM? CHECK OUT THE STRANGE SAGA OF THE DENVER PUBLIC LIBRARY'S CRANKIEST EMPLOYEE.
In 1989 a local philanthropist put Shively in charge of arranging an afternoon's Kees lecture at the Beatrice Library. "It grew much, much bigger than we thought," Shively recalls. "We brought in speakers from New York and Florida and the Nebraska academic community. Weldon's artwork was shown at the Gates County Historical Museum. And we did the world premiere of his play The Waiting Room as dinner theater at a local restaurant."
James Reidel, who'd discovered Kees while enrolled at the writer's program at Columbia University, was there and remembers it as somewhat surreal--but it was also grist for his ever-turning mill. "I have 900 pages of manuscript, and every once in a while, more Kees stuff shows up."
Among the more fascinating items, he says, is a recently discovered novel synopsis, in which "a character like Kees disappears into Mexico and a character like me tries to find him. He had a deep interest in Mexico," he adds. "There's as much evidence for his disappearance as for his destruction--that's what I think."
Others hold this same belief--among them critic Robert Stock, who recently thought he saw Kees in Mexico, married to a twelve-year-old "who nursed their infant as best she could." But most of Kees's old friends are skeptical.
"Chief argument against," writes poet Howard Nemerov, "is that no one who knew Weldon Kees could imagine him keeping silent for three decades."
But Reidel isn't so sure. Kees had, after all, become an expert in the art of abandonment. "And he could be quiet if he wanted to," Reidel says. "He was a very disciplined person.