Harvey J. Hess Collection

Manuscript collection:  MsC-69

Harvey Jason Hess collection, 1958-2005.  4 linear feet


Harvey Jason Hess, III (February 14, 1939-July 18, 2012)

Harvey Jason Hess, III, was born in Waterloo, Iowa, on February 14, 1939, to Harvey Hess, Jr., and Esther Miller Hess. 

Mr. Hess graduated from Orange Township High School (Black Hawk County, Iowa) in 1957.  Immediately after high school, he studied French language and culture for a brief time at the Sorbonne in Paris.  He attended the Iowa State Teachers College, now the University of Northern Iowa, in the late 1950s.  He later received his bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and Religion from McPherson College in Kansas (1961) and studied Japanese culture at the University of Washington in Seattle (1963).  He also studied at Bethany Theological College in Illinois, in 1961-1962 and 1964-1965.  In 1995 he earned his master's degree in English Language and Literature from the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls.

Mr. Hess was licensed to preach in 1958.  He renewed his license in 1961.  He became an ordained minister in 1962.

A trip to the Yucatan Peninsula in 1970 inspired a series of poems, Ruins Consequential.

In the early 1970s he moved to Hilo, Hawaii, where he resided until 1984.  In 1974 he wrote the libretto for The Naupaka Floret, a musical based on Hawaiian legend.  The music was composed by Jerré Tanner.  In Hawaii, Jerré Tanner, visual artist John Thomas, and Mr. Hess formed a lifelong artistic collaboration.  In 1975, Mr. Hess and Mr. Tanner were commissioned to create the world’s first Hawaiian comic opera, Ka Lei No Kane (The Garland of God Kane), which was also based on Hawaiian legend.  This opera made its world premiere in Hawaii in 1977 and has since been recorded and performed many times in America and Europe.

Mr. Hess and Mr. Tanner also collaborated on the operas The Coffee Cantata (Hess lyric translation of Bach work), The Kona Coffee Cantata, and The Singing Snails: Na Pupu-Kani-Oe, as well as choral symphonies, song cycles, and many other works.

During his time in Hawaii, Mr. Hess also cultivated his interest in the Japanese poetic forms of haiku, senryu, and tanka.  He won acclaim in this field, having published his poetry in several international journals.  He was listed in Who’s Who in the West and also The International Journal of Haiku Poets.

Mr. Hess was a correspondent for Ha`ilono Mele, the journal of the Hawaiian Music Foundation (1977-1979) and the music and arts critic for the newspapers Hawaii Tribune-Herald and West Hawaii Today (1978-1983).  Mr. Hess moved to Spokane, Washington, in 1984, where he became the music and arts critic for the Spokane Spokesman-Review (1984-1987), continued to write poetry, and to collaborate with Mr. Tanner on musical projects.  He remained in Washington until 1987, when he returned to Waterloo, Iowa.  His Iowa roots inspired another poetic series, Th’Autumnal Sequence, which was published in 2002.

Mr. Hess served as music and arts critic for the Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier from 1987 through 2008, and as an instructor at the University of Northern Iowa (1989-2011) and at Hawkeye Community College (1992-2007).  He taught English, Creative Writing, and Humanities at both institutions.

Harvey Hess died of natural causes on July 18, 2012, at the age of 73.

Partial Bibliography

  • Lyric Images, (with photographs by Gary M. Mason); private publication, Waterloo, Iowa 1962
  • Orchid Art and the Orchid Isle (with paintings and drawings by John Thomas); Malama Arts Inc., Kailua-Kona, Hawaii 1982
  • Hawaii Lyrics; Finial Press, Champaign, Illinois 1985
  • The Coffee Cantata and The Kona Coffee Cantata librettos; Malama Arts Inc., Kailua-Kona, Hawaii 1986
  • The Singing Snails libretto; Malama Arts Inc., Kailua-Kona, Hawaii 1986
  • Ka Lei No Kane libretto; Malama Arts Inc., Kailua-Kona, Hawaii 1987
  • Skipped Stones – Faces in Time; Eight Pound Tiger Press, Cedar Falls, Iowa 1994
  • Th’Autumnal Sequence – Sonnets of the Fall (a collection of 53 sonnets); Eight Pound Tiger Press, Cedar Falls, Iowa 2002

----David Hoing, September 2014



This collection includes correspondence, publications, journals, worksheets, and newsclippings by and about Mr. Hess. 

Mr. Hess donated the contents of Boxes 1-8 to the University Archives in increments from about 2000 through 2010.  The use of some of this part of the collection is restricted to Hess family members until September 2020.  See agreement document in Box 3.

On August 31, 2012, after the death of Mr. Hess, his sister Lucy donated a large quantity of material that had been stored in Mr. Hess's apartment to the University Archives.  This material is currently being processed.

Notes on journals in this collection

Harvey Hess was a prolific writer with a myriad of interests.  In addition to his poetry, essays, music and art reviews, librettos, plays, and short stories, he was also an ardent diarist.  Dating his journals was a difficult task, because more than half of his notebooks contain no date whatsoever.  Complicating this was Mr. Hess’s tendency to write on any scrap of paper he happened to have on hand.   He often jotted down new material on the unused pages of notebooks that were already twenty or more years old.

The journals represented in this collection begin in approximately 1960 and continue through July 12, 2012, just six days before Mr. Hess’s death.  For notebooks lacking dates, several methods were used to determine when they might have been written. Some were dated by context, such as references to certain movies, the release date of which is known, or mention of places where Mr. Hess was known to be living at the time.  For others, the copyright date and/or the logo on the notebooks themselves were used.  Subject matter frequently helped to narrow down the time period.  For instance, early references to writing the libretto for his Hawaiian opera Ka Lei No Kane in an otherwise undated notebook placed the entries around 1975.

A less reliable method was Mr. Hess’s handwriting, which tended to get shakier as he aged.  However, his handwriting also became difficult to read when he was ill.  Since he seemed to have battled ill health off and on much of his adult life, handwriting alone could not always be counted on to give a reliable, or even approximate, date.  But it sometimes added secondary evidence to help confirm a time period gleaned by other methods.

The journals testify to Mr. Hess’s diverse interests.  Many notebooks contain only poetry, some of which is represented nowhere else in this collection.  He was an ordained minister and often meditated on theological and philosophical matters.   Literary criticism found its way into his journals, as did personal observations of nature.  His health was a frequent concern.  While mostly serious, on occasion Mr. Hess could display a playful, frivolous, and at times even ribald sense of humor.  He was especially fond of experimenting with language and creating plays on words. 

These journals, then, are arranged in chronological order, oldest to newest.  For most of the notebooks it was possible to assign an approximate date, or at least a range of years during which they must have been written.  The few that could not be reliably dated by any method have been placed after the 2012 entries.

--David Hoing, September 2014


Box Inventory

Box 1

Emma L. Goughnour, autograph book, 1881


Box 3--Portions restricted

Agreement on use of Hess collection

Letter, Professor Norman Stageberg to Harvey Hess, 1958

Harvey Hess, journal, undated--Restricted use


Correspondence--Restricted use

Composition drafts

Harvey Hess, Ruth Suckow essay

The coffee cantata, Malama Arts, 1985; libretto by Harvey Hess

Invitation to musical evening at Hess home, 1998

Modern haiku, volume X, number 3 (includes Hess poem)

Draftings in, volume 6, number 1 (includes Hess essay "The physiology of art in Bach and Milton"

Arkenstone, volume 2, issue 3 (includes Hess poem "Beck the rainbow")

Cedar Arts cultivator, volume 2, number 1 (includes Hess essay "An invitation to give ourselves a chance")

Newsclippings relating to artist John Thomas; reproductions of paintings of John Thomas

The oil paintings of John (Paul) Thomas, Malama Arts, 1999


Box 4

Living in Iowa, #603, Harvey Hess (VHS videocassette)

Champagne Toast (VHS videocassette)

Reading of Hawaiian opera Esekela (Esther) (VHS videocassette)

Unlabeled VHS videocassette


Boxes 5-7--Restricted use


Box 8

Articles, programs, and other published material by and about Harvey Hess, 1977-2003; most have dates and publication information, but many do not

Photograph of Harvey Hess

"This land planted; seeds of the prairie, farm, and education."  2004

Ars Oceania Incorporated prospectus and plans

Ha 'Ilono Mele, vol. 5, no. 2 (February 1979

Kani Lehua

Boxes 1-8 processed and described by University Archivist Gerald L. Peterson, November 2010; remainder of collection processed and arranged by Library Associate David Hoing, 2014; last updated, September 19, 2014 (GP).

Rod Library Special Collections and University Archives
University of Northern Iowa
Cedar Falls, Iowa 50613-3675
Telephone: (319)-273-6307
Fax: (319)-273-2913
Email: Gerald.Peterson@uni.edu