Navigate / search

Summer by the Lake: Travel vicariously through letters and postcards from the Carlton Lake collection

You must have Javascript enabled and the Flash 8 plugin installed to view this content.

Consult your browser’s help file for instructions to enable Javascript.

Click on the four-way arrow in the bottom right-hand corner of the slideshow to convert into full-screen mode.

Looking for inspiration this summer, or maybe just some relief from the heat? Take a trip with these authors and artists from the Carlton Lake French manuscript collection.

Carlton Lake (1936–2006), a longtime curator at the Ransom Center, collected a wealth of modern French materials, including manuscripts, musical scores, and art by Paul Eluard, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Marcel Proust, Samuel Beckett, and Claude Debussy.  Below are selected items from his collection. Full-size versions of the thumbnail images can be viewed in the above slideshow.

Catch some rays with Marie-Thérèse Walter

Pablo Picasso’s model and mistress sent this letter to the Spanish artist from her vacation on the Côte d’Azure. She included a “pin-up” picture of their daughter, Maya, who at 13-and-a-half years old still has her “milk teeth.”

Visit the aquarium with Léon-Paul Fargue

The French poet was so taken with the aquatic life on display—part of the famous Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes of 1925 that gave Art Deco its name—that he wrote and illustrated this letter to an unidentified friend. “There are not many species, but they are all chosen from among the most beautiful and unusual. Silurids, catfish with astonishingly large and serene snouts barbeled like a French tickler, other tall fish looking like big rusted cleavers swimming with blue scythes, flying fish all in platinum and enameled silver, and others that are exactly like hummingbirds, drops of fire from the seas of China and South America, and whole bushes of thorny seahorses, rambling in their crystal Sabbath. I was delighted. We are going back to find out if one can buy them.”

Summer in Santa Fe with Virgil Thompson

In a 1962 letter to his old friend Alice B. Toklas, the longtime companion of writer Gertrude Stein with whom Thompson had collaborated on several occasions, the composer shares his enjoyment of the West in general and Santa Fe in particular.

Tour Egyptian antiquities with Pierre Louÿs

The poet and novelist disdained money, but he managed to travel anyway. He caught his enthusiasm for Africa from friend and novelist André Gide, and was earnest enough as a tourist to purchase a pass to see the sights.

Cast off with the literati of Paris

In June of 1924, the fair at the Quai d’Orsay in Paris drew crowds to the banks of the river Seine. Novelist and poet Valery Larbaud, poet Léon-Paul Fargue, Marie Monnier, Shakespeare and Co. bookstore owner Sylvia Beach, and Maison des Amis des Livres bookstore owner Adrienne Monnier posed for their portrait aboard the “Seagull.”

Venture to Cannes

French composer Francis Poulenc sent this postcard from the Mediterranean city of Cannes to Surrealist artist Valentine Hugo. Don’t be afraid to lift the apron of the young woman on the front of the postcard; she has pictures she wants to show you!

Relax on the French Riviera

Join artist Stéphane Fanièl vacationing on the French Riviera in Cannes during the summer of 1957. In his letter to poet Georges Hugnet, Fanièl includes paintings to describe the Croisette, the prestigious promenade of the French Riviera. At 6 o’clock in the evening the promenade is filled with people and distractions, but by 10 o’clock at night everyone is asleep. Fanièl sums up his vacation: “I sleep, I eat, I sleep. Sometimes I sleep, I eat, I read, I sleep and at other times I sleep, I eat, I draw, and I sleep. That’s my vacation. Apart from that Cannes is an awful place.”

Hike with Alfred Freuh in Andorra

New Yorker cartoonist and caricaturist Alfred Frueh (pronounced “free”) wrote to his boxing buddy, novelist Henri-Pierre Roché, about a summer trip to a small country between France and Spain called Andorra. Frueh describes the hike he and his wife took from Aix les Thermes, France into Andorra la Vieja, Andorra (also known as Andorra la Vella): “We came over without a guide—just followed the mule path… The natives on this side seemed to think it was something marvelous for a stranger to find his way alone across without a guide but I cant [sic] see where the difficulty was—the path, it is true, is not too plain but when you are in a valley with uncrossable peaks on either side you have either to go forward or backward and forward was Andorre and back was where we started from—so there.”

Befriend a camel

Enjoy a sunny afternoon at an oasis in Biskra, Algeria with artist J. Hamman. Narrating his trip to Tunisia and Algeria, watercolors replace words for Mr. Hamman in this letter to Valentine Hugo. With a camel as a friend in Northern Africa, you can go anywhere.

This text was adapted from label text written by Richard Workman, Catherine Stollar Peters and Monique Daviau.

Novelist, poet, and essayist Julia Alvarez’s archive acquired

Sketch of "The Tavárez-Mirabal 'Residence'" from Julia Alvarez's novel "In the Time of the Butterflies."
Sketch of "The Tavárez-Mirabal 'Residence'" from Julia Alvarez's novel "In the Time of the Butterflies."

The Harry Ransom Center has acquired the archive of acclaimed novelist, poet, and essayist Julia Alvarez (b. 1950).

Alvarez’s extensive archive consists of manuscripts, correspondence, journals, and professional files. The manuscripts span her writing career and include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, essays, and unpublished works, often in multiple drafts. Alvarez regularly sent drafts of her work to friends and colleagues, and these copies usually bear handwritten comments from the reader alongside Alvarez’s revisions.

Alvarez’s correspondence includes poems and letters from fellow writers such as Sandra Cisneros, Edwidge Danticat, Dana Gioia, and Marilyn Hacker.

Alvarez was born in New York City but raised in the Dominican Republic until she was 10. In 1960 her family was forced to flee the Dominican Republic when it was discovered that her father was involved in a plot to overthrow dictator Rafael Trujillo.

Much of Alvarez’s work is considered semi-autobiographical, drawing on her experiences as an immigrant and her bicultural identity. Alvarez’s unique experiences have shaped and infused her writing—from such award-winning novels as How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents and In the Time of the Butterflies to her poetry.

Alvarez’s archive will complement the university’s internationally respected resources in Latin American studies, providing a unique and enriching resource not only for literary study, but also for the study of Latin American history and government and other prominent social and cultural issues of our time.

The Alvarez materials will be accessible once processed and cataloged.

Book annotations document scuffle between Ernest Hemingway and Max Eastman

Annotated inside cover of Max Eastman's "Art and the Life of Action, with other Essays."
Annotated inside cover of Max Eastman's "Art and the Life of Action, with other Essays."

Ernest Hemingway, on his way to cover the civil war in Spain, stops in New York for a couple of days and drops in at Charles Scribner’s Sons publishing house. He wants to touch base with editor Max Perkins. Hemingway’s arrival is unannounced, and another writer, Max Eastman, is in Perkins’s office at the time. Hemingway nods at Eastman and proceeds to ignore him until he remembers a comment of Eastman’s. In a review titled “Bull in the Afternoon,” Eastman had described Hemingway as a member of the “False Hair on the Chest School of Writing.” Hemingway exposes his chest and asks, “Look false to you, Max?” Hemingway unbuttons Eastman’s shirt, and Eastman’s chest proves to be, in Perkins’s words, “as smooth as a bald man’s head.” Perkins tries to demonstrate that it’s not such a bad review by reaching for Eastman’s essay collection and reading a passage. This proves to be a tactical error. Hemingway snatches the book from Perkins’s hand, reads a passage that inflames his temper, and snaps the book shut on Eastman’s nose, and the two began grappling on top of Perkins’s desk and then the floor—until Hemingway, whom Perkins thinks is going to tear Eastman apart, begins to laugh.

If you think this a never-filmed Woody Allen parody, you’d be wrong. The Hemingway/Eastman dust-up is documented in various forms in newspaper columns of the time and in several biographies of Hemingway, Eastman, and Perkins. Depending on the teller, punches, slaps, shoves, and wrestling figure into the narrative.


This narrative featured into my work at the Ransom Center decades later in relation to Lee Samuels, a tobacco importer who travelled back and forth between New York and Havana. He collected Hemingway first editions and ephemera and not infrequently lent Hemingway money. He hung out with Hemingway, and the poolside author photo on the original dust jacket of The Old Man and the Sea was taken by Samuels. Samuels donated a box of manuscripts and books to the Ransom Center in June 1963, but the materials were restricted from access for 25 years.

When I learned the Hemingway/Samuels box was to be opened in 1988, I “volunteered” to catalog the Hemingway monographs. Most of the contents were manuscripts and went to that department, but about 15 books made their way to my desk. I was excited to examine the titles. I picked one up, and it opened flat between pages 100 and 101 because the spine was cracked. I was surprised because I thought Hemingway took better care of his books. I could see threads in the broken binding. Then I noticed the header “Bull in the Afternoon” above the text block.

No, it couldn’t be.

I turned a few pages and at the bottom of page 95, at a slant in the corner, “Witness: Max Perkins” and underneath, in a different hand, “Aug 12 1937 / for archive / Papa.” I then turned to the front free endpaper and halfway down the page was a crude drawing of a hand, beneath which was written, “This is the book I ruined on Max (the Prick) Eastman’s nose, I sincerely hope he burns forever in some hell of his own digging. — Ernest Hemingway.”

Annotated page from Max Eastman's "Art and the Life of Action, with other Essays." The book was part of a skirmish between Ernest Hemingway and Max Eastman.
Annotated page from Max Eastman's "Art and the Life of Action, with other Essays." The book was part of a skirmish between Ernest Hemingway and Max Eastman.

Fellow discusses work with Henry James’s letters

Peter A. Walker, a Harry Ransom Center fellow from Salem State University, discusses his research in the Henry James collection. As co-general editor of The Complete Letters of Henry James, Walker focused on the approximately 500 James letters that reside in the Ransom Center. Walker’s research allowed him to trace the author’s relationships through his correspondence.

Walker’s project was funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Research Fellowship Endowment.

Collection of Materials by Robert E. Howard, Creator of Conan the Barbarian, is Donated to Ransom Center

Robert E. Howard's map of the Hyborian world. © Conan Properties International LLC.
Robert E. Howard's map of the Hyborian world. © Conan Properties International LLC.

The Ransom Center has received a gift of materials related to writer Robert E. Howard (1906–1936), a prominent and prolific writer in the fantasy genre. Though Howard is perhaps best known for creating the character Conan the Barbarian, he wrote more than 100 stories for pulp magazines of his day, though his career spanned only 12 years before he committed suicide at the age of 30.

The collection, which includes more than 15,000 pages of manuscripts, sketches and ephemera, was donated by the estate of Glenn Lord (1931–2011), a Texas literary agent, editor and publisher of Howard’s prose and poetry. Lord is considered the first and most important researcher of Howard’s life and writings.

Howard was born in Peaster, Texas, and he sold his first story at the age of 18 when the magazine Weird Tales published “Spear and Fang” in 1924. Weird Tales would go on to publish many of Howard’s stories during the remainder of his life, including two stories in 1932 that introduced Conan the Barbarian, a character who roams the primitive lands of Earth’s mythical Hyborian Age fighting evil. Howard created other enduring characters such as Puritan duelist Solomon Kane, boxing sailor Steve Costigan, enigmatic Atlantean fugitive King Kull, and great warrior king Bran Mak Morn.

“The Ransom Center has one of the largest collections of classic science fiction novels, as well as the papers of several important science fiction and fantasy writers,” said Richard Oram, associate director and Hobby Foundation Librarian at the Ransom Center. “The Glenn Lord collection of Robert E. Howard will add an additional dimension to these materials.  Everyone is familiar with the Conan the Barbarian books or films, and the franchise originated in Howard’s Underwood No. 5 typewriter. Today, original typescripts of this Texas writer are sought after by collectors around the world, and we are grateful that Mr. Lord decided to place them here.”

Howard maintained a regular correspondence for six years with fantasy writer H.P. Lovecraft, and the two debated the merits of civilization vs. barbarianism, cities and society vs. the frontier, the mental vs. the physical, and other subjects. Some of this correspondence is preserved in the collection.

Lord became a collector of Howard’s work in the 1950s and amassed the world’s largest collection of Howard’s stories, poems and letters. Lord served as the literary agent for Howard’s heirs for almost 30 years, and his collection was used as the source text for almost every published Howard work appearing in books and magazines between 1965 and 1997.

The materials will be accessible once processed and cataloged. Two cases of Howard materials will be on display in the Ransom Center’s lobby through September 3.

Tim O’Brien becomes first fiction writer to win Pritzker Award

Tim O'Brien. © Marion Ettlinger.
Tim O'Brien. © Marion Ettlinger.

Novelist Tim O’Brien has been awarded the 2013 Pritzker Military Library Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing, marking the first time a fiction writer has won the $100,000 prize. O’Brien, whose archive resides at the Ransom Center, is the author of such works as The Things They Carried (1980) and In the Lake of The Woods (1994).

The Ransom Center acquired O’Brien’s archive in 2007. The more than 25 boxes of material document the author’s life and work, including a story about war he wrote as a boy, his military jacket and awards, weather-damaged letters received from his family while he was in Vietnam, a map of that country heavily annotated decades later, and his research notes for his novels. The bulk of the archive consists of materials related to O’Brien’s novels, including If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home (1973), Northern Lights (1975), Going After Cacciato (1978), The Nuclear Age (1985), and July, July (2002).

Related content:

Read more about what O’Brien has to say about his papers residing at the Ransom Center.

View selected items from his archive.