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"The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door: A Portal to Bohemia, 1920–1925" web exhibition now live

By Alicia Dietrich

The Ransom Center has the web exhibition The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door: A Portal to Bohemia, 1920–1925. The exhibition uses a door from a book shop owned by Frank Shay in Greenwich Village in the early 1920s as an entryway into the lives, careers, and relationships of New York bohemians of that era. The door is signed on both sides by more than 240 artists, writers, publishers, and other notable 1920s Village habitués, and the web exhibition uses the signatures to reconstruct the intersecting communities that made Greenwich Village famous as an epicenter of Modernism.

Read an essay about the web exhibition that will appear in this Sunday’s print edition of The New York Times Book Review.

A gallery exhibition of the same name, which includes the actual door, opens Tuesday, September 6, at the Ransom Center.

In Memoriam: William B. Todd (1919–2011)

By Richard Oram

William Todd and F. Warren Roberts discuss a rare book beneath a portrait of George Bernard Shaw, ca. 1961. Unidentified photographer.
William Todd and F. Warren Roberts discuss a rare book beneath a portrait of George Bernard Shaw, ca. 1961. Unidentified photographer.

Not everyone remembers that Harry Ransom was a fisher of minds as well as of rare books and manuscripts. One of his early catches was William B. Todd, an up-and-coming young bibliographer at Harvard’s Houghton Library who had done his graduate work at the University of Chicago. Todd had served with distinction during World War II, receiving two wounds during the Normandy Invasion. In the late 1950s, Ransom saw that Todd might become the bibliographic intelligence behind the Humanities Research Center, then just a vision.

Once in Austin, Bill Todd, who died this past weekend, settled into a comfortable berth in The University of Texas English Department and began exploring the treasures of the Rare Book Department. In partnership with the English scholar D. F. Foxon, he discovered that the turn-of-the-century forger Thomas J. Wise had spent many hours in the British Museum Library removing leaves from copies of seventeenth-century plays. Wise then proceeded to improve his own inferior copies of plays purchased for a shilling or two. He would then have them rebound and ship them off to Chicago, where they were snapped up by his hapless dupe, the financier John Henry Wrenn. Their ultimate destination was Austin once the University acquired the Wrenn Library in 1918. The Todd-Foxon discovery created quite a splash—so much so that the British Museum asked for its “used” leaves back (they were not successful).

Todd made many noteworthy scholarly discoveries and contributed in a variety of ways to the intellectual life of the Harry Ransom Center through his publications (nearly 300 on a dazzling variety of subjects), exhibitions, and advice on acquisitions. Perhaps his greatest contribution was his characteristically thorough and precise examination of the three available copies of the Gutenberg Bible in the annus mirabilis of 1977–78. He undertook this project with his longtime bibliographical partner and wife, Ann Bowden. Together they looked at every significant feature of the Bibles and concluded that the Pforzheimer copy was the one to bring to Austin.

The Todd-Bowden team went on to accomplish labors unthinkable by lesser mortals, such as the first comprehensive bibliographies of the German reprint house Tauchnitz and Sir Walter Scott. Endeavors on these scales were built on world travel, which they both loved, and book collecting (ditto). Their libraries now form part of the collections of the Ransom Center, Lehigh University (Todd’s alma mater), and the British Library. In between their travels and writing, the Todds attended almost every Longhorn football game and entertained extensively. As the comments make clear, the Todds were mentors to a couple of generations of bibliographers and rare book librarians, who will not soon forget them.

"The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" collection donated to Ransom Center

By Alicia Dietrich

Lobby poster for the Broadway production of 'The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.'
Lobby poster for the Broadway production of 'The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.'

The Harry Ransom Center  has received a donation of a collection of materials from husband-wife duo actress Carlin Glynn and writer and director Peter Masterson relating to their careers and their work on the original Broadway production and film of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

The collection consists of eight document boxes of materials, half of which relate to the 1978 musical. The musical was directed by Masterson, who also co-authored the book with Larry L. King. Carol Hall wrote the lyrics for the musical. The stage musical starred Glynn as Mona Stangley, the owner of a brothel in the fictional town of Gilbert, Texas. The show ran for more than 1,500 performances on Broadway, toured extensively and was adapted to film in 1982.

“We chose the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin to house our film and theatrical works and memorabilia, as so much of it is fueled by our Texas roots,” said Glynn and Masterson. “The Ransom Center is the leading theatrical and cinematic archive and will display our work properly so that it may be of value to future generations.”

The collection tracks the musical from its genesis to its stage performance and film adaptation through multiple versions of the stage and film script, publicity photographs, correspondence and financial documents related to the premiere, documents related to the West End production and other touring productions, and correspondence related to the development of the film script.

Ransom Center acquires archive of film director Nicholas Ray

By Jennifer Tisdale

The Ransom Center has acquired the archive of film director Nicholas Ray (1911–1979), best known for his film Rebel Without a Cause.

Spanning more than 35 years, materials in the collection include, but are not limited to, Ray’s work on They Live By Night (1949), In A Lonely Place (1950), Flying Leathernecks (1951), Rebel Without a Cause (1955), Run for Cover (1955), Bitter Victory (1957) and 55 Days at Peking (1963). Rebel Without a Cause starred James Dean, Sal Mineo and Natalie Wood.

The holdings include original treatments, annotated scripts, photographs, journals, notes, audio reels, video recordings and film that provide an account of Ray’s working methods and ideas.

Also included are materials from Ray’s teaching career, which he began in 1971. Ray taught film directing and acting at Harpur College of Arts and Sciences at Binghamton University, New York University and the Lee Strasberg Institute.

Storyboards from Rebel Without a Cause reveal a different ending from the film that was released. In the alternate ending as originally planned, Plato, played by Mineo, is shot from the dome of the planetarium. The archive’s 64 storyboards contain Ray’s handwritten dialogue and directions. Almost all of Ray’s dialogue changes were incorporated into the film.

Ray’s most ambitious personal project was the experimental film We Can’t Go Home Again (1973–1976), which he made with students at Harpur. A version of the film screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 1973, but Ray continued working and editing the film until his death. Materials relating to the autobiographical project include hours of edited work print, rushes, cut negative, editing notes and journal entries.

Storyboards from Rebel Without a Cause will be displayed on the first floor of the Center from July 28 through Aug. 31. Once processed, cataloged and housed, the collection will be available for research in the fall.

 

Please click the thumbnails below to view full-size images.

 

Two Ransom Center authors long listed for 2011 Man Booker Prize

By Alicia Dietrich

Cover of 'The Sense of an Ending' by Julian Barnes.
Cover of 'The Sense of an Ending' by Julian Barnes.

Authors Julian Barnes and Sebastian Barry, both featured in the Ransom Center’s current exhibition Culture Unbound: Collecting in the Twenty-First Century, were selected for the long list of nominees for the Man Booker Prize. The Ransom Center holds the archives of Barnes and Barry.

Barnes was nominated for his novel The Sense of an Ending, and Barry was nominated for On Canaan’s Side. Both are previous nominees for the award.

Barnes has been shortlisted three times for the prize: in 2005 for Arthur and George, in 1998 for England, England, and in 1984 for Flaubert’s Parrot. Barry was previously shortlisted in 2008 for The Secret Scripture and in 2005 for A Long Long Way.

Cover of 'On Canaan's Side' by Sebastian Barry.
Cover of 'On Canaan's Side' by Sebastian Barry.

Materials from both authors can be seen in the Ransom Center’s galleries in Culture Unbound, which is on display through Sunday, July 31.

The shortlist of six authors will be announced on September 6, and the winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize for Fiction will be announced on October 18.

To celebrate this news, Cultural Compass will be giving away signed copies of books by each author. To be eligible to win, tweet a link to this blog post and mention @ransomcenter. If you’re not on Twitter, send an email to hrcgiveaway@gmail.com with “Booker Prize” in the subject line. All tweets and emails must be sent by midnight CST, and winners will be drawn and notified tomorrow. [Update: Winners have been drawn and notified.]

Frida Kahlo self-portrait returns to the Ransom Center in time for Kahlo's 104th birthday

By Alicia Dietrich

Exhibition Conservator and Head of Exhibition Services Ken Grant and Preparator Wyndell Faulk inspect Frida Kahlo's 'Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird' in 2009.
Exhibition Conservator and Head of Exhibition Services Ken Grant and Preparator Wyndell Faulk inspect Frida Kahlo's 'Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird' in 2009.

Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s Self–portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (1940) has returned to the Ransom Center and is on display in the lobby beginning today, which is Kahlo’s 104th birthday, and runs through January 8, 2012. The painting, one of the Ransom Center’s most famous and frequently borrowed art works, has been on almost continuous loan since 1990. During that time, the painting has been featured in exhibitions in more than 25 museums in the United States and around the world.

The painting was most recently on loan as part of a Kahlo retrospective tour with stops at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin, Germany; the Kunstforum Wien in Vienna, Austria; and the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid, Spain. View a map of where the painting has travelled in the past 20 years.

The painting returned to the Ransom Center briefly in 2009 and went on display for several months in the lobby. Watch a video documenting the painting’s return, unpacking, and conservation assessment.

New short story collection by Ransom Center author Julian Barnes released this week

By Courtney Reed

Cover of 'Pulse' by Julian Barnes
Cover of 'Pulse' by Julian Barnes

Pulse, Julian Barnes’s new book of short stories, came out on Tuesday, May 3. Comprised of 14 stories, Barnes examines the mysteries of love, death, and friendship. The stories traverse Italian vineyards and English seasides, spanning from the eighteenth century to modern day.

The Ransom Center acquired Barnes’s archive in 2000. The British writer’s papers span a 30-year career, including typescript drafts, printer’s copies, proofs, production material, and reviews of Barnes’s works.

According to Ransom Center Director Thomas F. Staley, “One of Britain’s major writers, Barnes is a versatile man of letters. From Flaubert’s Parrot to Love, Etc., Barnes’s fiction is rich and entertaining. His prose is as playful as it is supple and rich.”

Barnes’s first novel, Metroland, was published in 1980 and received the Somerset Maugham Award. The novel was later adapted into a 1997 film starring Christian Bale. Barnes then published two crime thrillers under the pseudonym Dan Kavanagh, followed by his second novel, Before She Met Me, under his own name.

Describing his papers, Barnes wrote “Everything I do from the moment I am faced by what I recognize as the possibility—or pre-possibility—of a novel is contained within the archive. I have never thrown away more than the occasional (more or less duplicate) page of typescript. My archive therefore contains 98 or 99% of all the marks I make on paper as a novelist.”

Barnes is one of the writers featured in the Ransom Center’s current exhibition Culture Unbound: Collecting in the Twenty-First Century, on display through July 31.

Ransom Center receives collection of miniature books

By Ryan Hildebrand

The Ransom Center recently received a gift of more than 60 miniature books from printer, collector, and aficionado Duane Scott, proprietor of the Scott Free Press. The gift includes books Scott printed under his Scott Free Press imprint, as well as examples published by others such as Achille J. St. Onge, The Press of the Indiana Kid, Arm and Hammer Press, Black Cat Press, The Hillside Press, and Tabula Rasa Press. Scott’s gift is a substantial addition to the Ransom Center’s collection of miniature books.

In But, Why Tabula Rasa? John Lathourakis ponders “What makes a somewhat normal person get into an activity as insane as miniature books? Some say it is a form of self-punishment for transgressions too base to describe; others merely look at miniature book people as simple souls who are normal in every respect except that they were born brainless. I have a less clinical approach. Simply stated, printers and publishers of miniature books are possessed people whose every waking moment is spent trying to solve unsolvable problems.”

Latourakis’s diagnosis may be somewhat correct for Scott, as he was drawn to miniature books in part because they are difficult to execute well. On his visit to the Ransom Center he talked about the seemingly impossible tasks of aligning a page’s front and back during printing, setting miniscule pieces of type by hand, and the general difficulties of working on a very small scale. In bookwork, a diminutive format amplifies difficulty because one’s tools stay the same size, while the object to which they are applied is no bigger than 3 inches, and often much smaller. A well-done miniature book showcases the craftsperson’s ability; a poorly executed book highlights his or her failings. Scott’s miniature books belong in the former category.

Scott had another reason for becoming a printer of miniature books. Years ago, while already a letterpress printer, he met another printer specializing in the genre. Scott admired the printer’s work, but the printer refused to sell his books; he would only trade for another miniature book. So, Scott printed his first miniature book, Mark Twain’s How I Edited an Agricultural Paper, in order to have an item for trade.

Scott’s books are all completely handmade, from the setting of the tiny six-point type, to the binding, and of course, the printing. In some cases, he also made his own paper. His 1984 publication, Henrik Ibsen’s Nora Awakened: A Portion of a Doll’s House was published in an edition of 250 copies, with 100 of them printed on 100-percent rag paper made from old cotton shirts, handkerchiefs, sheets, and pillow cases. Another of Scott’s books, Oriental Sayings, used paper made from denim. His daughter Caroline recalls, “He put out the word to the family to save our old cotton, and when we went to visit, we would haul along any worn-out clothes and linens.” Scott processed the pulp in an Umpherston beater and formed the sheets himself.

The topical matter of Scott’s collection is broad. The writings of Mark Twain are oft repeated, as are excerpts from other well-known authors such as Robert Frost and Henrik Ibsen. As expected, many of the books are concerned with printing, the book arts, and book collecting, including two books on miniature bookplates and type and paper specimen books. A book on Gutenberg contains a miniature facsimile leaf of the Gutenberg Bible, and a work on Ottmar Merganthaler (inventor of the Linotype machine) contains a Linotype circulating matrix. Perhaps the frustrations associated with printing miniature books incline their makers toward humor, as many of the books are quite funny, or at least take a very light-hearted tone. I can’t close this post without mentioning two of the more humorous works in Scott’s collection: What Men Know About Women by A. Mann, which is entirely blank inside, and the humorous and racy Shaggy Dog Story, a story about a dog named Sex.

 

Please click the thumbnails below to view full-size images.

 

Book giveaway on April 14 at 6:30 p.m. at Central Market

By Alicia Dietrich

Cover of 'Consider the Lobster' by David Foster Wallace
Cover of 'Consider the Lobster' by David Foster Wallace

Starting at 6:30 p.m. on April 14, the Ransom Center is distributing free copies of David Foster Wallace’s book Consider the Lobster and other titles by Culture Unbound exhibition authors. Check in with us upstairs at Central Market (40th and Lamar) to receive your book and a food sample from the Cooking School chefs.

The Paris Review celebrates James Salter Month

By Alicia Dietrich

Photo of James Salter by Linda Gervin.
Photo of James Salter by Linda Gervin.
James Salter is being honored later this month with The Paris Review’s Hadada Prize, which is awarded annually to a “distinguished member of the literary community who has demonstrated a strong and unique commitment to literature.” The award will be presented to Salter by Robert Redford, who, in an unrelated program, will speak on a panel on campus with Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein later this month about the legacy of All the President’s Men.

Previous recipients have included Ransom Center authors Norman Mailer and Peter Matthiessen.

In honor of the award, the magazine is highlighting essays about Salter’s work by such writers as Jhumpa Lahiri, Ian Crouch, Alexander Chee, Louisa Thomas, Geoff Dyer, Doree Shafrir, and Porochista Khakpour.

They’re also highlighting items from Salter’s archive at the Ransom Center, including an outline and title ideas for what would become Salter’s novel Light Years.

Need more reading to get your James Salter fix? Check out his list of recommended books from the fall 2007 issue of Ransom Edition or an audio interview with Salter from March 2007.