(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Writers

“Living with those who have lived and the companionship of those who are no longer alive… archives are a kind of site in the sense of an archaeological site”*…

Inside cover of David Foster Wallace’s annotated copy of Don DeLillo’s Players. The papers of both writers are collected at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas

Why do the archives of so many great writers end up in Texas? D.T. Max dives into what is, arguably, America’s “hottest” literary archive, and chronicles the acquisition strategy of its director…

The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, the literary archive of the University of Texas at Austin, contains thirty-six million manuscript pages, five million photographs, a million books, and ten thousand objects, including a lock of Byron’s curly brown hair. It houses one of the forty-eight complete Gutenberg Bibles; a rare first edition of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” which Lewis Carroll and his illustrator, John Tenniel, thought poorly printed, and which they suppressed; one of Jack Kerouac’s spiral-bound journals for “On the Road”; and Ezra Pound’s copy of “The Waste Land,” in which Eliot scribbled his famous dedication: “For E. P., miglior fabbro, from T. S. E.” Putting a price on the collection would be impossible: What is the value of a first edition of “Comus,” containing corrections in Milton’s own hand? Or the manuscript for “The Green Dwarf,” a story that Charlotte Brontë wrote in minuscule lettering, to discourage adult eyes, and then made into a book for her siblings? Or the corrected proofs of “Ulysses,” on which James Joyce rewrote parts of the novel? The university insures the center’s archival holdings, as a whole, for a billion dollars.

The current director of the center is Thomas Staley. Seventy-one, and a modernist scholar by training, he is mercurial and hard-driving. Amid the silence of the center’s Reading Room, he often greets visiting scholars with a resonant slap on the back. In college, at a Jesuit school in Colorado, Staley pitched in a summer baseball league, specializing in a slow, sinking curve. His “crafty pitch,” as he calls it, was good enough to attract the attention of professional scouts. The Ransom Center, under Staley’s leadership, easily outmaneuvers rivals such as Yale, Harvard, and the British Library. It operates more like a college sports team, with Staley as the coach—an approach that fits the temperament of Texas. “People take a special pride here in winners,” Staley says. “They like success.” (After the Ransom bought its Gutenberg Bible, the center sent the Bible on a victory lap, displaying it at libraries, museums, and universities around the state.)…

A fascinating look into the (surprisingly competitive) world of literary archives: “Final Destination,” from @dtmax in @NewYorker.

(One archive that is not at the Ransom Center is that of Lou Reed. His widow and executor Laurie Anderson had originally intended to house the papers, tapes, and memorabilia there, but changed her mind when the Texas legislature passed a law allowing the open carry of hand guns on state college campuses. They are now at the New York Public Library– and the subject of an exhibit at The Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.)

* John Berger

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As we turn every page, we might send archival birthday greetings to Henry Clay Folger; he was born on this date in 1857. A businessman and philanthropist, he founded (with with his wife, Emily Jordan Folger) the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., an independent research library (and archive) that houses the world’s largest collection of the printed works of William Shakespeare, and is a primary repository for rare materials from the early modern period (1500–1750) in Britain and Europe. The library is privately endowed, and is administered by the trustees of Folger’s alma mater, Amherst College.

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“How I hate those who are dedicated to producing conformity”*…

Andy Warhol, Polaroid photographs of Truman Capote and William S. Burroughs

When one writer speaks frankly to another: William S. Burroughs’s bizarre and mean– and strangely prescient– “open letter” to Truman Capote after the publication of In Cold Blood

As Thom Robinson writes at RealityStudio, Burroughs had long been dismissive of Capote—and sometimes resentful of his success. For his part, Capote was none too impressed with Burroughs, who wasn’t yet the literary star he would become. Robinson quotes Capote telling the Chicago Daily News in 1967: “I hate pop art to death . . . Now William Burroughs. He’s what I’d call a pop writer. He gets some very interesting effects on a page. But at the cost of total lack of communication with the reader. Which is a pretty serious cost, I think.”

In the below letter, Burroughs engages in a sort of bizarre role-play, claiming (it seems) to speak for a department responsible for the cosmic fate of writers. He tells Capote that he has been following him closely, reading his works, his reviews, and his actions, even interviewing his characters, and that he has decided to withdraw the talent given to him by the department and curse him to never write anything good again—as if he were a minor god of creative action, or king of the muses. Robinson points out that Burroughs actually believed in curses at this time, and maybe he was right, because his damning words came true—he never wrote anything good again. Read Burroughs’s attack on Capote below. (He’s also not too keen on the New Yorker.)

July 23, 1970

My Dear Mr. Truman Capote

This is not a fan letter in the usual sense—unless you refer to ceiling fans in Panama. Rather call this a letter from “the reader”—vital statistics are not in capital letters—a selection from marginal notes on material submitted as all “writing” is submitted to this department. I have followed your literary development from its inception, conducting on behalf of the department I represent a series of inquiries as exhaustive as your own recent investigations in the sunflower state. I have interviewed all your characters beginning with Miriam—in her case withholding sugar over a period of several days proved sufficient inducement to render her quite communicative—I prefer to have all the facts at my disposal before taking action. Needless to say, I have read the recent exchange of genialities between Mr. Kenneth Tynan and yourself. I feel that he was much too lenient. Your recent appearance before a senatorial committee on which occasion you spoke in favor of continuing the present police practice of extracting confessions by denying the accused the right of consulting consul prior to making a statement also came to my attention. In effect you were speaking in approval of standard police procedure: obtaining statements through brutality and duress, whereas an intelligent police force would rely on evidence rather than enforced confessions. You further cheapened yourself by reiterating the banal argument that echoes through letters to the editor whenever the issue of capital punishment is raised: “Why all this sympathy for the murderer and none for his innocent victims?” I have in line of duty read all your published work. The early work was in some respects promising—I refer particularly to the short stories. You were granted an area for psychic development. It seemed for a while as if you would make good use of this grant. You choose instead to sell out a talent that is not yours to sell. You have written a dull unreadable book which could have been written by any staff writer on the New Yorker—(an undercover reactionary periodical dedicated to the interests of vested American wealth). You have placed your services at the disposal of interests who are turning America into a police state by the simple device of deliberately fostering the conditions that give rise to criminality and then demanding increased police powers and the retention of capital punishment to deal with the situation they have created. You have betrayed and sold out the talent that was granted you by this department. That talent is now officially withdrawn. Enjoy your dirty money. You will never have anything else. You will never write another sentence above the level of In Cold Blood. As a writer you are finished. Over and out. Are you tracking me? Know who I am? You know me, Truman. You have known me for a long time. This is my last visit.

[original in the Burroughs Archive of the New York Public Library’s Berg Collection]

Can one writer curse another for life? “William S. Burroughs’s Hate Letter to Truman Capote,” from Emily Temple (@knownemily) in @lithub.

[image above: source]

* William S. Burroughs

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As we examine enmity, we might send apocalyptic birthday greetings to Harold Egbert Camping; he was born on this date in 1921. A Christian radio broadcaster and evangelist, he presided over Family Radio, a California-based radio station group that, at its peak, broadcast to more than 150 markets in the United States.

Camping is notorious for issuing a succession of failed predictions of dates for the End Times, which temporarily gained him a global following and millions of dollars of donations. Camping first predicted that the Judgment Day would occur on or about September 6, 1994. When it failed to occur, he revised the date to September 29 and then to October 2.  In 2005, Camping predicted the Second Coming of Christ to May 21, 2011, whereupon the saved would be taken up to heaven in the rapture, and that “there would follow five months of fire, brimstone and plagues on Earth, with millions of people dying each day, culminating on October 21, 2011, with the final destruction of the world.”

His prediction for May 21, 2011 was widely reported [including here], in part because of a large-scale publicity campaign by Family Radio, and prompted ridicule from atheist organizations and rebuttals from many other Christians.  After May 21 passed without the predicted events, Camping said he believed that a “spiritual” judgment had occurred on that date, and that the physical Rapture would occur on October 21, 2011, simultaneously with the final destruction of the universe by God. That, of course, also didn’t happen. But as Camping had suffered a stroke in June of 2011, he was largely silent thereafter… though in March 2012, he announced that his attempt to predict a date was “sinful,” and that his critics had been right in emphasizing the words of Matthew 24:36: “of that day and hour knoweth no man.” Family Radio is still recovering from the fallout of the failed end-times predictions.

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“Superstition is the poetry of life”*…

 

Charles Dickens
Slept Facing North

Charles Dickens (1812–1870) carried a navigational compass with him at all times and always faced north while he slept—a practice he believed improved his creativity and writing.

Nine other personal peculiarities at “Ten Superstitions of Writers and Artists.”

* Johann Wolfgang Goethe

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As we knock on wood, we might spare a thought for Michael “Mick” Ronson; he died on this date in 1993.  A guitarist, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, arranger, and producer, he is best remembered as the foil to David Bowie in his breakout years, the leader of the Spiders from Mars.  But Ronson also served as arranger and occasional producer on Bowie’s work.  He went on to a successful career as a session musician recording with the like of Ian Hunter, John Mellencamp, Elton John, and Morrissey, and as a sideman in touring bands with Van Morrison and Bob Dylan (Ronson was the anchor of the Rolling Thunder Revue band).  He wrote and recored successful solo albums, and produced albums for acts including Ellen Foley, Roger McGuinn, Morrissey, and many others.

Ziggy and the Spider

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

April 29, 2018 at 1:01 am

“I just sit at a typewriter and curse a bit”*…

 

Richard Wright and his Royal Arrow

Men (and women) and their machines:  “Writers and their typewriters.”

* P.G. Wodehouse

Wodehouse and his Royal Electric

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As we let our fingers dance, we might send carefully-composed birthday greetings to John Ernst Steinbeck, Jr.; he was born on this date in 1902.  The author of 27 books, including 16 novels, six non-fiction books, and five collections of short stories, he is widely known for the comic novels Tortilla Flat (1935) and Cannery Row (1945), the multi-generation epic East of Eden (1952), and the novellas Of Mice and Men (1937) and The Red Pony (1937).  The Pulitzer Prize-winning The Grapes of Wrath (1939) is considered Steinbeck’s masterpiece and part of the American literary canon. In the first 75 years after it was published, it sold 14 million copies.  In 1962, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Steinbeck’s Hermes Baby

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

February 27, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Chance is the pseudonym of God when he did not want to sign”*…

 

This infographic from printerinks (via Electric Literature) takes a look at literary pen names through history:

 click here for larger version

* Théophile Gautier, La croix de Berny (Paris: Librairie Nouvelle, 1855)

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As we speak freely, we might recall that it was on this date in 1959 that Warner Bros. released Tom Graeff’s epic film Teenagers From Outer Space.  The movie failed to perform at the box office, placing further stress on an already-financially-burdened Graeff; and in the fall of 1959, he suffered a breakdown, proclaiming himself to be the second coming of Christ. After a number of public appearances followed by an arrest for disrupting a church service, Graeff disappeared from Hollywood.  His film however lives on:  featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, Elvira’s Movie Macabre, and Off Beat Cinema, Teenagers From Outer Space is the final prize in the action-adventure game Destroy All Humans, unlocked when a player wins.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 2, 2015 at 1:01 am

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