Meet the Staff is a Q&A series on Cultural Compass that highlights the work, experience, and lives of people at the Harry Ransom Center.
Joan Sibley has filled a variety of roles during her 25 years at the Ransom Center. Now, as Senior Archivist, she is responsible for the completion of retrospective conversion cataloging of manuscript collections, grant writing, and management of grant projects. Read more
The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has awarded the Ransom Center a $18,900 grant to preserve and enhance access to the Ransom Center’s non-commercial sound recordings. The grant allows the Ransom Center to complete a preservation survey of more than 13,000 archival sound recordings to establish and document preservation digitization priorities, processes, and standards to enhance access to these research materials.
“To make the most prudent and productive use of resources available, the Ransom Center must understand the condition of its sound recordings, as well as their intellectual and research value, in order to make preservation decisions based on clear principles that will expand current and inform future reformatting, stabilizing, and cataloging efforts,” said Ransom Center Director Steve Enniss. “This support from the NEH is powerful validation of the Center’s efforts.”
A majority of the recordings are unique and were made for private, non-commercial use. The content varies widely but includes literary spoken word, conference proceedings, dictated notes and letters, field recordings, structured interviews, lectures and readings, musical performances, radio broadcasts, rehearsals, telephone conversations, dictated drafts of writings, and even therapy sessions and psychic readings.
Recordings in the collection belong to some of the twentieth- and twenty-first-century’s most notable writers, artists, and performers including Stella Adler, Neal Cassady, Andre Dubus, David Douglas Duncan, Norman Bel Geddes, Spalding Gray, Denis Johnson, Ernest Lehman, Norman Mailer, Bernard Malamud, Gerard Malanga, David Mamet, Nicholas Ray, Ross Russell, David and Jeffrey Selznick, Anne Sexton, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Warren Skaaren, Ted Spagna, Gloria Swanson, and Leon Uris.
Of the more than 13,000 audio recordings cataloged in the Ransom Center’s Sound Recordings Collection database, 2,700 have been digitized and are available for streaming onsite in the Center’s Reading and Viewing Room.
A long-term goal is to place the Sound Recordings Collection database on the Ransom Center’s website, providing patrons access to existing sound recordings.
“In the 50 years since NEH’s founding, the Endowment has supported excellence in the humanities by funding far-reaching research, preservation projects and public programs,” said NEH Chairman William Adams. “The grants continue that tradition, making valuable humanities collections, exhibitions, documentaries, and educational resources available to communities across the country.”
Upon completion, the project will serve as a model for a follow-up project to survey the Ransom Center’s archival moving image materials.
Beginning Saturday, April 4, the Ransom Center increases its Saturday operating hours for its Reading and Viewing Room and will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The times are an increase from the Center’s prior Saturday hours of 9 a.m. to noon.
The Ransom Center’s Reading and Viewing Room is an active place, facilitating the scholarly inquiry of researchers. In the past year, researchers from 46 states and 30 countries worked in the Reading and Viewing Room.
Patrons from Austin and Texas will benefit from the increased hours as will other researchers, including many of the Ransom Center’s fellowship recipients, 49 percent of whom travel from abroad to conduct research here.
The increased hours will provide additional opportunities for onsite use of the Center’s collections of manuscripts, rare books, photographs, and other materials.
Information about using the collections, including establishing a research account, can be found online.
Each year, thousands of undergraduates come to the Harry Ransom Center to visit with a class, attend one the Center’s programs, or view an exhibition.
Since its founding, the Ransom Center has been an important resource for undergraduates at The University of Texas at Austin. Harry Ransom believed that meaningful undergraduate education was not complete without exposure to rare books and manuscripts.
The Ransom Center continues to maintain this vision to encourage undergraduate interaction with its collections and is launching a new resource that provides information about the many opportunities available to undergraduates.
Whether an entering freshman or a graduating senior, students can explore and be inspired by the offerings of the Ransom Center. Through exposure to and interaction with collection materials—whether it be a manuscript, photograph, artwork, or rare book—students can open the door to the creative process.
Spalding Gray was an actor, performer, and writer. He appeared on Broadway in various one-man shows and is widely accredited with the invention of the autobiographical monologue. His archive, recently acquired by the Ransom Center, is composed of more than 100 private journals that span more than 40 years of Gray’s career. Nell Casey, editor of the book The Journals of Spalding Gray, which was released today, distilled the mass of journal entries into a portrait of the man behind the magnetic performer who ended his life in 2004. Cultural Compass spoke with Casey about her interest in Gray, the surprising notes she found in the journals, what she admires about his work, and more.
Casey’s interaction with Gray began in 1992 when, after moving to New York, she wrote one of her first magazine articles about him. After Gray’s death, Kathie Russo, Gray’s widow, created the play Leftover Stories to Tell, which told the story of Spalding Gray’s life through excerpts from his monologues and journals. Casey interviewed Russo for The New York Times and says that the journal entries that appeared in the play were “incredibly beautiful.”
“One of the things about the play was that with other people reading [Gray’s] work you got a sense of his incredible talent as a writer,” said Casey. “When I saw the play and the writing was taken out and away from him and other people were reading it, I realized that his writing was a talent that had been sort of overshadowed by his personality and performance.”
When Russo approached Casey to ask if she would be interested in writing a book about Gray, Casey enthusiastically agreed. She had always loved Gray’s work. Her first step was to read the journals. Initially, she was concerned that the material found in the journals would be repetitive of what Gray himself told in his monologues. What she found was anything but.
“[The journals] are this incredible under life and sea of experience that he had not included in his monologues, and part of that experience was the struggle he had,” said Casey.
The writings are so raw and intimate that Casey says she was “caught off guard by almost every journal entry.” On paper, Gray reveals himself as a more extreme version of the person he portrays in his monologues. Casey describes him as a self-reflective narcissist with a broad sense of himself.
“He had this unbelievably broad sort of analytic and therapeutic sense of himself, so he could explore himself, even though he could not stop himself from actions that were very self-destructive and brutal,” said Casey.“The monologues are where he found perspective. The journals were where he showed himself to be completely lost.”
While Gray’s entries do correspond to his monologues, his writings are not for performance but for his life. Casey says, “There is some similarity, but you see in the journals that he just hasn’t gotten his footing yet.”
The themes present in his monologues come up in the book, but they are explored more deeply. As Casey read through the thousands of journal entries, she found that there were very specific themes: his drinking, his narcissism, his performance, his struggle with relationships, his mother’s suicide, and his fantasy life. These themes acted as a guide to help Casey winnow the mass of information into a chronological account of Spalding Gray’s private life.
Above all, Casey says that her years with Gray’s journals have led her to admire him for his writing. She admires it for “its beauty but also for the incredible, tender, searching thought that went into what he wanted to find in life.” Gray’s quest for truth was relentless. “Honesty is really guesswork, isn’t it?” Casey questioned, quoting British editor and writer Diane Athill.
“The point being, what is truth?” Casey says. “Your own truth is just a stab in the dark, and I admire Spalding Gray for his endless attempts at trying to find his truth.”
“We have lost Gray,” Casey writes in her introduction to the journals, “but there is still more for him to tell us.”
Nell Casey is the editor of Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression and An Uncertain Inheritance: Writers on Caring for Family. Her articles have been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, Elle, and Glamour. The Journals of Spalding Gray, edited by Nell Casey is published by Alfred A. Knopf and available for purchase October 18, 2011.