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Biographer mines Ransom Center’s collections to uncover “The Unknown Henry Miller”

By Alicia Dietrich

Arthur Hoyle’s recent biography The Unknown Henry Miller: A Seeker in Big Sur was recently published by Skyhorse/Arcade. The biography recounts Miller’s career from its beginnings in Paris in the 1930s but focuses on his years living in Big Sur, California, from 1944 to 1961, during which he wrote many of his most important books, including The Rosy Crucifixion trilogy, married and divorced twice, raised two children, painted watercolors, and tried to live out an aesthetic and personal credo of self-realization. While researching for the book, Hoyle visited the Ransom Center, and he shares some of his findings below.


Three collections at the Harry Ransom Center deepened and enriched my research as I wrote my recently published biography of Henry Miller, The Unknown Henry Miller: A Seeker in Big Sur.


The Barbara Sandford papers contain Miller’s letters to his long-estranged daughter Barbara, with whom he reconnected in 1954 when she wrote to him in Big Sur from Pasadena, where she was then living. Through Miller’s letters to her and her replies to him, held by the Special Collections Department at the UCLA Research Library, I was able to track the path of their renewed relationship as it unfolded over the next dozen years. The correspondence reveals Barbara’s growing dependence on her father and his attempts to steer her into a satisfying and self-sufficient life.


The Alexander B. Miller collection contains Miller’s letters to Renate Gerhardt, the editor and translator whom Miller met in 1960 while visiting his German publisher Ledig-Rowohlt in Hamburg. Miller fell in love with Renate and hoped to make a life with her in Europe, an intention that led him to agree to the U.S. publication of Tropic of Cancer by Grove Press. The correspondence exposes the desperate lengths to which Miller went to hold onto Renate. Her replies, also held at UCLA, show her to be a sensitive but calculating woman who understood why a domestic relationship with Miller was not feasible for them, and who saw opportunity in Miller’s continued longing for her.


The third collection (Henry Miller collection) contains Miller’s letters to Emil White, the man who served as Miller’s factotum and close friend during the 17 years of his residence in Big Sur. To Emil, Miller revealed himself candidly on a wide range of subjects—his writing, his domestic issues, his travels, his frantic and ultimately unsuccessful attempts to find a place to settle in Europe with Renate.


Miller’s extensive correspondence with friends, lovers, fellow artists, and professional associates is as important to an understanding of the man as his numerous autobiographical works. These three collections bring the researcher into the depths of Miller’s inner life during a peak creative period.


Image: Cover of The Unknown Henry Miller by Arthur Hoyle.

Enter to win tickets to “Love & War” exhibition opening celebration

By Alicia Dietrich

Today the galleries open for the Ransom Center’s spring exhibition, The World at War, 1914­–1918. Join us for “Love & War,” the opening celebration for the exhibition from 7 to 9 p.m. on Friday, February 14.


Drawing on the Ransom Center’s extensive collections, this exhibition illuminates the experience of the war from the point of view of its participants and observers, preserved through letters, drafts, and diaries; memoirs and novels; and photographs and propaganda posters.


Listen to hand-cranked phonographs in the lobby and keep warm with coffee and doughnuts as Wright Bros. Brew & Brew provides a modern take on the popular “Doughnuts for Doughboys” wartime campaign. Enjoy internationally-inspired light bites as you sip on wine courtesy of The Austin Wine Merchant, a “Flying Ace” whiskey cocktail from Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling, and “Victory Punch,” featuring Dripping Springs Vodka. Enter to win an exclusive prize package that includes a stay at Hotel Havana, a gift certificate to Uncommon Objects, handcrafted chocolates from the Chocolate Makers Studio and more.


Ransom Center members receive complimentary entry and valet parking at this celebration. If you are not yet a member, you may order tickets to the opening for $20 through Thursday, February 13 by calling (512)232-3669 (valet parking is not included for non-members). Tickets will also be available for purchase at the door.


The Ransom Center is giving away a pair of tickets to “Love & War.” Email with “Love & War Giveaway” in the subject line by midnight CST on Tuesday, February 11 to be entered in a drawing for complimentary admission for two. The winner will be notified by email.


Special thanks to these sponsors: Austin Wine Merchant, The Chocolate Makers Studio, Dripping Springs Vodka, Henri’s, Hotel Havana, Inn Above Onion Creek, Lexus Broadway at Texas Performing Arts, Ranger Creek Brewing and Distilling, Uncommon Objects, and Wright Bros. Brew & Brew.

Notebooks illuminate creative process behind Billy Collins’s poem “The Names”

By Alicia Dietrich

Among the papers in the recently acquired Billy Collins archive are materials related to his poem “The Names,” which was written to commemorate the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Interspersed throughout the poem are the names of 26 victims of the attacks, one name for each letter of the alphabet, from “Ackerman” through “Ziminsky.”


Collins, a native of New York City, was the U.S. Poet Laureate when the attacks occurred in 2001. He wrote the poem and read it at a special joint session of Congress on September 6, 2002.


One of the notebooks in Collins’s archive contains his notes and early drafts of the poem, along with lists of names for different letters of the alphabet. An annotated typescript shows a later draft of the poem with Collins’s handwritten notes and edits.


The archive will be accessible in the Ransom Center’s reading room once it has been processed and cataloged.


Please click on thumbnails to view larger images.


Rare French “Cisiojanus” fragment identified in bookbinding through crowdsourcing project

By Alicia Dietrich

Farley P. Katz is a tax lawyer in San Antonio who collects rare books, manuscripts, and “too many other things.” He is one of the contributors to the medieval fragments project, a crowdsourcing research project headed by archivist Micah Erwin to identify fragments of medieval manuscripts bound into rare books at the Ransom Center. Katz describes a recent discovery below.

Recently, I identified a very unusual and interesting manuscript waste fragment on archivist Micah Erwin’s medieval fragments project Flickr site. The fragment was used as a pastedown inside the rear cover of some collected works of Cicero printed by Aldus Manutius in Venice, Italy, in 1514. Its call number at the Ransom Center is Uzielli 99, referring to Giorgio Uzielli. The Ransom Center holds a collection of books printed by Aldus and his successors.

The Flickr posting noted only that the fragment includes a calendar possibly from a book of hours (a medieval devotional book containing prayers, hymns, and religious calendars and often painted miniatures). There was text below the calendar that included French words. I could make out “C’est mon” and “Et tout,” but little else was easily readable. The fact that each line began with a capital letter, however, suggested that it might be a poem.

Usually if a text is well known, it can be identified by searching on Google with a few strings of words (using quotation marks so that only the exact phrase is sought). While reading the words may not be so easy given the antiquated scripts and condition of the fragments, it helps to have some knowledge of the languages the texts are written in and the nature of the manuscripts themselves. Here, I tried a number of searches, but the few phrases I could make out were insufficient for this purpose. Then, I tried searching “C’est mon” and “book of hours.” Success! I found an article by two scholars, Kathryn M. Rudy and René Stuip, about a French prayer book that contained a calendar for each month that was followed by rhyming lines of poetry. Those for March appear to be close or identical with the first four lines on the Ransom Center’s fragment:

Au-bin dit que mars est pril-leux.  (1 Albinus)
C’est mon, fait Gre-goir, il est feux. (12 Gregory)
Et tout prest de don-ner des eaux.
Ma-ri-e dit: il est caux. (25 Annunciation, Lady Day)

They translate as: “Albinus says that March is changeable. That’s right, says Gregory, it’s fire, and quite ready to give water. Mary says it’s hot.”

Rudy and Stuip explained that these are not mere amusing rhymes, but actually a complex mnemonic device known as a “Cisiojanus” (from Circumcisio Januarius, referring to the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ, celebrated on January 1).  The number of syllables in each poem equals the number of days in the month. So for March, which has 31 days, there are 31 syllables. The most important saints or holy days of each month are identified by name and numerical position in the poem. Thus, the first syllable of the March rhyme starts with the name Aubin and St. Albinus’s day was March 1. Similarly, the twelfth syllable of the rhyme starts with Gregoir, whose feast day was March 12.

Cisiojani (the plural form) originated in Germany in the twelfth century in Latin and were later produced in vernacular languages, ultimately making it into early printed books. Manuscripts written in French of Cisiojani, however, are quite rare. It’s difficult to date the manuscript fragment because the text is obscured, but an educated guess would be fifteenth century.

Although I have not seen the book “in person,” the catalog states that it has a “Fanfare” binding. Fanfare bindings are ornate bindings in which the covers are divided into many compartments often filled with gold tooling. They originated in France in the sixteenth century and spread throughout Europe. Since Uzielli 99 contains manuscript waste from France, it most likely was bound there.

Identifying this manuscript fragment at the Ransom Center thus not only adds to the limited body of knowledge about French Cisiojani but also provides evidence of where an early bookbinding was probably made.

Related content:

Archivist seeks help in identifying manuscript waste material

Archivist traces manuscript waste in a set of volumes back to a dark origin in Frankfurt

Archivist declares medieval manuscript fragment crowdsourcing project success

Image: Detail of Uzielli 99 manuscript.

Winter break hours

By Alicia Dietrich

Holiday hours for the Ransom Center are as follows:


Ransom Center Galleries
10 a.m.–5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday
10 a.m.–7 p.m. Thursday
Noon–5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday


The Ransom Center Galleries are closed Mondays and the following holidays:
Christmas Eve Day (Tuesday, December 24)
Christmas Day (Wednesday, December 25)
New Year’s Day (Wednesday, January 1)


Please also be aware that the Reading and Viewing Rooms and administrative office will be closed during the University holidays from Monday, December 23, through Wednesday, January 1.


Visitors can see the current exhibition, Radical Transformation: Magnum Photos into the Digital Age through January 5.


The First Photograph and the Gutenberg Bible remain on permanent display.


Docent-led gallery tours occur on Tuesdays at noon, Thursdays at 6 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. (There will be no public tour on Thursday, November 28.) The public tours meet in the lobby, and no reservations are required.


Admission is free. Your donation supports the Ransom Center’s exhibitions and public programs. Parking information and a map are available online.


The Cultural Compass blog will be on hiatus during the University’s winter break and will return the week of January 6.

Thanksgiving holiday hours

By Alicia Dietrich

The Ransom Center will be closed on Thanksgiving Day. Please be aware that the Ransom Center Galleries are open on this Friday, November 29, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.  and from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday, November 30, and Sunday, December 1.


Visitors can view the current exhibitions Radical Transformation: Magnum Photos into the Digital Age and Eli Reed: The Lost Boys of Sudan. The First Photograph and the Gutenberg Bible remain on permanent display.


Docent-led gallery tours occur on Tuesdays at noon, Thursdays at 6 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. (There will be no public tour on Thursday, November 28.) The public tours meet in the lobby, and no reservations are required.


Admission is free. Your donation supports the Ransom Center’s exhibitions and public programs. Parking information and a map are available online.


The Ransom Center’s Reading and Viewing Rooms and administrative office are closed on Thursday, November 28, and reopen on Monday, December 2.


Image: John Audubon’s illustration of a wild turkey from “Birds of America.” 1827.

Video: Magnum photographer Eli Reed discusses his career and documentary photography

By Alicia Dietrich


The exhibition Eli Reed: The Lost Boys of Sudan is on view at the Ransom Center through December 8.


In the above video, Eli Reed, Magum photographer and a clinical professor of journalism at The University of Texas at Austin, discusses his career and working methods.


In 2001, Reed traced the path of some of the more than 20,000 “Lost Boys,” as aid workers have called them, some as young as five years old, forced to flee after their families were massacred or enslaved during the Second Sudanese Civil War. Wandering the equatorial wilderness between Sudan and Ethiopia for years on foot, those who survived starvation and disease eventually reached a refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, where over 3,000 of them awaited resettlement through a United Nations partnership with the U.S. State Department. Reed’s powerful series documents their journey as they leave the camp and adjust to life in the United States, acclimating to a starkly different culture and a new world of formidable challenges.


Additional photographs by Reed from his 1995 series Rwandan Refugees in Tanzania are on view as part of the exhibition Radical Transformation: Magnum Photos into the Digital Age.


Related content:

“Eli Reed: The Lost Boys of Sudan” exhibition opens today at the Ransom Center