First published in 1976, On Being Blue is an improvisational inquiry into the nature of words and consciousness, and it firmly established Gass as an esthete who could simultaneously celebrate and create great literary art. Critics drew comparisons to Virginia Wolfe, Gustave Flaubert, Oscar Wilde. Originally published as a signed, limited edition hardcover with a slipcase, the book remains one of Gass's most popular books.

The William H. Gass Papers contain numerous typescript drafts and draft fragments of this ground-breaking book, including one in which Gass used a blue typewriter ribbon--presumably to get him into that blue mood! Examples of these drafts are included here. Publicity for the book's release is also featured: an invitation to a reception at the late, lamented Paul's Books in University City, and a press release about the book from Godine on blue paper.