Digital Collections – The Harry Ransom Center

February 4, 2014

Former US poet laureate Billy Collins has joined the ranks of such initialed luminaries as E.E. Cummings and T.S. Eliot with sale of his archives to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. “The collections assembled [at the Ransom Center] document the work of some of our finest writers and artists and provide unprecedented access to the creative process while also helping us understand the historical moment out of which this work emerged.” In addition to recent additions such as Collins’, the humanity research library and museum’s holdings also include notebooks, personal effects, paper scraps, and more by Williams Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Anne Sexton, and Dylan Thomas.

Whether a writer or a reader, it is always interesting to check out the unedited, raw feed of literary genius, whether it is typewritten pages (here, a page from Don DeLillo’s first draft for Underworld) or the handwritten notes and doodles of authors such as David Foster Wallace, whose Pale King drafts have been digitized for endless scrutiny. (Notice how he takes the time to write out by hand the front matter legalese at the beginning of one of his drafts.) Peep a hand-written letter that Edgar Allan Poe sent to a man named George Bush or check out Blood Book, a creepy scrapbook of Freemason imagery and writings from Evelyn Waugh’s personal library. It looks, frankly, super metal. M_WAU_GAR_003v_582px On the less savory side, entrepreneurial thieves scanned and published some of the Ransom Center’s unpublished J. D. Salinger stories. (This was big news in the literary world last fall because it brought up issues regarding copyright and privacy. The Ransom Center isn’t violating any copyright rules because it doesn’t duplicate any works currently held under copyright, though there is some discontent over the fact that Salinger didn’t want this work available to the public until 2060. Two of his stories “Paula” and “Birthday Boy” remain available to view for research purposes. Here is a good article on the matter.)

-1And behold, this is just the literary stuff. The Ransom Center also has rotating exhibitions (some digital, some IRL) including Houdini’s scrapbooks, Elliott Erwitt’s Master Print collection, and an actual GUTENBERG BIBLE! Someone please go visit (by appointment only) and tell us about all the great stuff you saw. Make a road trip out of it. Extra credit for anyone who also visits Texas State University’s Wittliff Collections and sends back word of Cormac McCarthy’s unpublished works.

(Want more of Collins? Check out his amazing TED Talk, here.)


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