As a fellow at the Ransom Center last year, independent scholar Mary V. Dearborn uncovered new information about the Hemingway family while studying the Ernest Hemingway collection and Leicester Hemingway’s New Atlantis collection. She’s currently working on a book based on her findings: The Hemingway Family: The Human Cost, which is scheduled for publication in 2011. Her research at the Ransom Center was funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Dearborn says her book will “tell for the first time the hundred-year story of a tragic American family,” and shares some highlights from her research at the Ransom Center:
I was working in the Hemingway family papers, and I was astounded by what I found there. The papers were mostly Ernest’s mother’s, containing all her correspondence, records, and photographs. None of Hemingway’s previous biographers seem to have really looked at this material, perhaps dismissing it as “domestic” and thus trivial.
Grace Hemingway is usually written off as a cold, castrating shrew—the picture of her that her son wholesaled, blaming her for his father’s suicide. She was definitely difficult, but she was a fascinating woman, and her marriage was a complicated and nuanced relationship of power that Ernest learned a great deal from, for good and ill.
The added bonus is that in these papers there are numerous anecdotes and descriptions of Ernest’s upbringing, contributing to a far more well-rounded picture of the boy and young man than we have previously been given. Ernest once confided to Max Perkins, his editor at Scribner, that he couldn’t write freely while his mother was still alive—not at all the impression he commonly gave out! Their relationship was, until her death in 1951, fraught and intense—and heretofore unexplored.
Matt Morton, a senior in the English Honors Program, Humanities Honors Program, and Government, is working as an undergraduate intern with Ransom Center Curator of British and American Literature Molly Schwartzburg. Undergraduate interns at the Harry Ransom Center have the opportunity to gain valuable behind-the-scenes experience at a major research library and museum. Interns work in a variety of capacities, including developing exhibitions, assisting with collections cataloging, and creating unique multimedia.
Morton has been assembling materials from the Paul Bowles and other collections for an exhibition case that is now on display on the Ransom Center’s second floor through November 13. He shares his experience working on this project:
On my first day as an intern at the Ransom Center, I walked into the building feeling guilty. A lover of all things literary, I was entering my fourth year as an English and Humanities major. Nevertheless, I had ventured inside the Center only twice, both times during organized class visits.
I didn’t know quite what to expect. I had heard horror stories from fellow classmates about internships consisting of making copies and gazing out the window. I knew, of course, that an internship at the Ransom Center would provide the opportunity to do more than grunt work. Still, I was unsure of how I could make a substantial contribution.
I soon found out. I was met by my supervisor, Molly Schwartzburg, who immediately began outlining the projects we would be working on. The first of these was the creation of a single-case exhibition centered on a New York Times article commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of Paul Bowles’s novel, The Sheltering Sky.
Written by Dwight Garner, the article was notable for its references to Tennessee Williams’s review of The Sheltering Sky, and Norman Mailer’s discussion of Bowles in Advertisements for Myself, two works of which the Ransom Center holds original manuscripts. Garner also referred to Virginia Spencer Carr’s Paul Bowles: A Life. Carr did extensive research at the Center while working on the biography and even inscribed a copy of the biography to the Center’s staff.
Garner’s article was the initiation of my relationship with The Sheltering Sky, which would progress over a few short weeks. While I was thrilled to be given responsibility for an exhibition, however small, I was simultaneously apprehensive. During my three years at UT, I somehow had never heard of Bowles. How could I create an exhibition focusing on one of his novels?
I soon found that the task was not as daunting as I imagined. Molly and I began by repeatedly touring the mazes of the Center’s collections. Soon I found myself sorting through the Bowles and Williams collections and Mailer’s papers, eventually having to decide which of the enticing collection materials should be included in the exhibition’s limited space. Finally, all that remained was creating the layout, an act that allowed me even more creative freedom.
After only four weeks of work, the exhibition is finished. I hope that it will introduce viewers unfamiliar with Bowles to The Sheltering Sky, as the process of its creation similarly educated me.
Fred Kaplan worked in the Ransom Center’s Reading and Viewing Rooms while researching his book 1959: The Year Everything Changed, which was released last month. He describes his work at the Center:
I came down to the Harry Ransom Center for a few days in the summer of 2008 as part of my research for a book that wound up being titled 1959: The Year Everything Changed (Wiley, 2009). I focused mainly on the papers of Norman Mailer and Allen Ginsberg. Without the materials that I found there, my book would have been less rich and complete than it is. Certain letters and diary entries in the Mailer papers forced me to revise my concept and chronology of where and when Mailer acquired or devised some of his most original and influential ideas. Poring through the Ginsberg papers, I was hoping to find connections between his poetry and two excitements of the era: jazz and space exploration. I found both.
Last year the Ransom Center received as a gift a bible printed in 1481, in Basel by Johan de Amerbach, that was adorned with a 19th century fore-edge painting by bibliophile John T. Beer. The scene is described in a checklist of Beer’s fore-edge paintings simply as “A scene on the Nile,” and the image is sufficiently vague to merit such a title.
What biblical paintings might have inspired the painting? Some have suggested Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; Joseph and his brothers; and the Holy Family leaving Egypt. Can any of these suggestions be substantiated based on the details present in the painting? Take a close look and leave a comment with your thoughts.
Four-time Tony Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally is a frequent focus of theater news these days. This summer he completed a workshop production of his new drama, Unusual Acts of Devotion, at the La Jolla Playhouse, that starred Richard Thomas and Doris Roberts. His latest musical—a stage version of Catch Me If You Can, originally a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio—just closed in a workshop production in Seattle and will move to Broadway sometime in 2010. McNally will also be represented on Broadway this season by revivals of his musical Ragtime and his dramedy Lips Together, Teeth Apart. In March, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., is mounting a mini-festival of his work titled “Three Nights at the Opera with Terrence McNally” that will include productions of his The Lisbon Traviata and Master Class, and will feature a newly commissioned play focused on the opening night performance of Bellini’s I Puritani that will be titled The Golden Age.
McNally has thus far made three gifts of his papers to the Ransom Center, and researcher Raymond-Jean Frontain recently wrote an article about his work with the Ransom Center’s McNally papers. Frontain is a professor of English at the University of Central Arkansas, where he focuses on seventeenth-century literature.
So how does a specialist in seventeenth-century devotional literature find his way from the religious lyrics of John Donne to the work of contemporary playwright McNally?
“In 1993, I caught the Broadway production of A Perfect Ganesh with Frances Sternhagen, which was one of the most luminous performances that I had experienced in a long while,” Frontain explains. “The actor led me to the play. I’ve been exploring the religious bases of McNally’s drama ever since.”
Read Frontain’s article “Terrence McNally’s Connections,” in which he explores McNally’s relationship with John Steinbeck, Angela Lansbury, and others.
The Ransom Center announces its application process for the more than 50 fellowships that are awarded annually to support scholarly research projects in all areas of the humanities. Applicants must apply by February 1, 2010, and demonstrate the need for substantial on-site use of the Center’s collections.
Recent fellow Daniel Worden, who received a Dorot Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Jewish Studies, describes his experience at the Ransom Center:
This summer, I worked in the Norman Mailer papers at the Harry Ransom Center, through the support of a Dorot Foundation Fellowship. This research trip allowed me to begin work on my new book project, “Cool Realism: The New Journalism and American Literary Culture.” This book will focus on literary non-fiction from the 1960s and 1970s that adopts techniques from fiction writing. Norman Mailer is key to this project, and the Ransom Center’s collections proved to be a perfect starting point for my research.
Since I was primarily interested in Mailer’s non-fiction writing, I was able to focus the first two weeks of my research on a few key texts, namely, The Armies of the Night, The Fight, and Miami and the Siege of Chicago. On my first day at the Ransom Center, I was thrilled to find an early introduction to The Armies of the Night, Mailer’s book about the 1967 March on the Pentagon, that compared his journalistic method to Truman Capote’s, as realized in In Cold Blood. Mailer argued in this draft introduction that he relies less on fact and more on “mood” in documenting events. It is precisely this type of comparison, and the resulting ideas about what constitutes “true” writing and meaningful journalism, that I was hoping to find.
Working at the Ransom Center was a joy. The curators and librarians were incredibly helpful, and I was able to accomplish much during my stay because the environment at the Ransom Center is so conducive to archival work. As an added bonus, Austin is such a vibrant city—there was always something to do after the reading room closed.
Watch the video of Worden discussing his research and describing how one “can watch works develop in their different stages.”
The Ransom Center’s reference desk receives about 150 new inquiries every month, but this particular question caught their attention for its unusual question and the age of its sender. Ransom Center Librarian Richard Workman worked with a Georgia high school student, providing him information for a class project about Ezra Pound. Many of Pound’s papers reside at the Ransom Center. Their email exchange in its entirety is printed below.
My name is Will. I am a Jr in high school in Jones County, Georgia. I have been assigned a group project (which I am the leader) in my Literature class. My group of 7 must put together a luncheon introducing one of Ezra Pound’s works. We are required to actually put together the program honoring Mr. Pound and his work of our choosing. We must decide where this luncheon would have been held – then actually cook the food – which MUST be a dish Ezra Pound enjoyed, serve the beverage – which MUST be a drink Ezra Pound enjoyed (non-alcoholic), provide background music which Ezra Pound would have chosen, create an “era-appropriate” atmosphere of the restaurant, and find out if Mr. Pound enjoyed an after-dinner cigar or anything of that sort. The Literature teachers will be the luncheon participants (they get to eat the food, drink the drink, listen to the music and also our oral report and program honoring this particular work.) The worst part is – we were assigned this Tuesday April 3 and must present it Friday April 13 (how appropriate).
My question is – we can find lots of information on Ezra Pound’s works and life, but not intimate information like what food and drink he preferred, what type restaurant he might frequent, etc. Do you have any suggestions where we may search. I have searched for hours on the internet just to come up with this e-mail address. I pray you will read this and respond in time for us to get the research and work done. Please take this seriously. I would be grateful for any help you may give us.
From: Richard Workman
Sent: Tuesday, April 10, 2007 11:15 AM
Subject: Ezra Pound and food
Your project sounds fascinating. You have very creative teachers, and I’m sure you must be enjoying your class.
The Harry Ransom Center holds a collection of Ezra Pound’s papers, consisting mostly of manuscripts of some of his works and a large selection of his correspondence. I haven’t read every letter in the collection, but I believe they mostly deal with his theories of literature, politics, and economics.
I think your best bet is a biography of Pound. The one I suggest is by Humphrey Carpenter. It’s titled A Serious Character: The Life of Ezra Pound. It has an extremely detailed index which I think will be very helpful to you. If you look under the entry “Pound, Ezra Loomis” in the index, you will find a long entry broken up into several sections. Under the section titled “Character, Interests, Outlook, and Style” is an entry for “food, love of” followed by about 30 citations. This should give you plenty of information to construct your luncheon. As for music, Pound was famous for his love of modern classical music, and the biography is full of mentions of his musical activities.
I hope you can find a copy of the book in time to bring your luncheon off. If you have difficulty, let me know and I’ll see if we can be of further help.
Good luck with your project and keep enjoying literature.
P.S. One of my colleagues suggested that the ideal thing to serve would be pound cake!
To: Richard Workman
Sent: Thursday, Apr 19, 2007
Subject: Re: Ezra Pound and food
Dear Mr. Workman –
Our project went wonderfully well thanks to your help!! Our county library didn’t have the Ezra Pound book you suggested and neither did the Macon system, but we found it in the system a few counties over (about 1 1/2 hr away), so my mom drove over and picked it up for us. After studying that book, we decided to serve Chicken a la Lucy with new potatoes and green beans for the main course, also salad and, for dessert, peach ice cream on pound cake (we took your colleague’s advice!). We chose to decorate the classroom like St.Elizabeth’s mental hospital and held the “luncheon” in the hospital cafeteria. We received 10 out of 10 on our evaluation sheets from 3 of the teachers (we didn’t get to see the sheets from the other 2) so we feel pretty sure we did well – though we haven’t received our grade yet.
I just want to thank you on behalf of our whole group for your help. We were really up against it and you came through for us! Thank you so much for your help and for being so thorough and professional in your work. God bless you.
Jones County, Georgia
(PS – My mom graduated from Killeen High School which isn’t too far from Austin – but she went to UGA and FSU instead of staying in Texas)
From: Richard Workman
Sent: Thursday, Apr 19, 2007
Subject: Re: Ezra Pound and food
You made my day! I’m so glad to hear that your project was a success. It sounds like your group put its heart and soul into it. Bravo!
I am very happy that I could contribute in a small way to your triumph, and I hope this experience leaves you with a lifelong love of literature and, incidentally, a warm feeling for librarians. If there’s one thing we love to do, it’s help people.
Please pass along my congratulations to all the members of your group and to your very clever and creative teachers. And thanks very much for bringing me up to date.