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Photo Friday

Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.

Undergraduate intern Sara Saastamoinen double checks materials in the Charles Wrey Gardiner collection against a newly created finding aid. Photo by Jen Tisdale.
Undergraduate intern Sara Saastamoinen double checks materials in the Charles Wrey Gardiner collection against a newly created finding aid. Photo by Jen Tisdale.
Attendees enjoying last week’s Poetry on the Plaza. Photo by Pete Smith.
Attendees enjoying last week’s Poetry on the Plaza. Photo by Pete Smith.
Attendees enjoying last week’s Poetry on the Plaza. Photo by Pete Smith.
Attendees enjoying last week’s Poetry on the Plaza. Photo by Pete Smith.

Fellows Find: Scholar explores varied creative processes in David Foster Wallace and Don DeLillo archives

Archival boxes in the Don DeLillo archive at the Harry Ransom Center. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.
Archival boxes in the Don DeLillo archive at the Harry Ransom Center. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.

Mary Holland  is an Assistant Professor of English at SUNY New Paltz. She recently spent time working in the David Foster Wallace and Don DeLillo archives at the Ransom Center. Her work, which was funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Research Fellowship Endowment, will be used in her article “‘Your head gets in the way’: Distortion, Vision, and Influence in Barth’s Lost in the Funhouse and Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.”

Last August, I spent six glorious days working in the David Foster Wallace and Don DeLillo archives at the Harry Ransom Center, research made possible by a travel stipend generously awarded by the Center. A week is a strange amount of time to spend in a place filled to the gills with archival treasures beyond the imagination of an academic wearied by paper-grading and class prep. At first, encountering this abundance in the framework of a week’s stay threatens to trigger an unhelpful paralysis in reaction to intense frustration. I managed to combat such stultification by using every available moment to gather information that I could examine in stolen moments of leisure once I was home.  During my stay, I looked at most of the Wallace materials and a good portion of the DeLillo materials.

For a longtime lover of Wallace’s work, the archive of his drafts, letters, and annotated books is exhilarating and revelatory. I read with glee his comments, written with his trademark tiny handwriting, in the margins of books I’ve never seen him quote from but knew in my gut he had to have mindfully read; I found in drafts of his work scribblings about other pieces he’d written much earlier or later, establishing how fluid and overlapping his creative process was—that his process for creating fiction was as recursive as the fiction he created.

The DeLillo archive is far vaster than the Wallace one and requires more time for full exploration than I could wrench from my life last August. But I did examine research folders for several of DeLillo’s novels, as well as multiple drafts of a few novels: one could not paint a clearer picture of the enormous differences between Wallace’s and DeLillo’s writing processes than by putting the two authors’ drafts side by side. Whereas DeLillo builds a novel like a house, crafting it room by room, paragraph by paragraph, all aiming to fit a blueprint he’s mapped out well ahead, Wallace’s novels spilled out of him like water, going where they would, joining other unexpected streams, requiring repeated and concerted acts of containment, reshaping, and solidification before becoming the complex crystalline structures they are. I also found some startling connections between novels by DeLillo I had previously not read as connected, and these kinds of discoveries will certainly fuel my next critical work on DeLillo.

Landing at such a place as the Ransom Center with only a week to stay before shoving off again is certainly a real test of fortitude and focus. (Yet I gladly set both aside for lost hours when I became passionately absorbed in this or that planned or unplanned thing: I think I spent an hour just reading letters from Gordon Lish to DeLillo. Lish’s cocky, melodramatic persona is not to be missed.) But every time I jogged up the stairs to the reading room on an energized morning, or down again on a tired evening for that well-earned beer on Sixth Street, I did so with enormous gratitude that the Center exists, that its staff members are so helpful and kind, and that I was afforded my week of work there.

Photo Friday

Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.

Ransom Center staff interviewed novelist and essayist Geoff Dyer during his visit to the Ransom Center. Photo by Jen Tisdale.
Ransom Center staff interviewed novelist and essayist Geoff Dyer during his visit to the Ransom Center. Photo by Jen Tisdale.
Central Market Cooking School Chef Louis Ortiz leads cooking demonstrations of dishes inspired by the exhibition “I Have Seen the Future: Norman Bel Geddes Designs America.” Photo by Lisa Pulsifer.
Central Market Cooking School Chef Louis Ortiz leads cooking demonstrations of dishes inspired by the exhibition “I Have Seen the Future: Norman Bel Geddes Designs America.” Photo by Lisa Pulsifer.
Library Assistant Megan Dirickson works on a project to digitize and catalog the materials of artist Frank Reaugh, including rehousing works after they have been documented. Funding for the Frank Reaugh project is made possible with support from IMLS (Institute of Museum and Library Services) and TSLAC (Texas State Library and Archives Commission). Photo by Edgar Walters.
Library Assistant Megan Dirickson works on a project to digitize and catalog the materials of artist Frank Reaugh, including rehousing works after they have been documented. Funding for the Frank Reaugh project is made possible with support from IMLS (Institute of Museum and Library Services) and TSLAC (Texas State Library and Archives Commission). Photo by Edgar Walters.

Xeriscaped plaza helps conserve water

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This past summer, the Harry Ransom Center underwent a sustainable landscape makeover, replacing two plots of Asian jasmine, holly, and nandina bushes in front of the building with handsome rock gardens filled with plants especially suited for the Austin climate. The project is part of campus-wide efforts to promote xeriscaping, or landscaping that saves water by reducing the need for irrigation.

Two seniors working on their Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science, Tim Eischen and Hank Star, spearheaded the project by submitting a proposal to the University’s Green Fee Committee, which agreed to fund the project. The new gardens feature drought-resistant plant species and are expected to conserve 72,000 gallons of water a year.

To maximize water conservation, the landscape features a new irrigation system specifically designed to meet sustainable watering requirements. In addition to facilitating dramatic reductions in irrigation, the landscape is also contoured to maintain its role as a local drainage basin. Central to the goal of xeriscaping is using native plant life, which drains far less water than the invasive Asian jasmine that previously filled the planters. The new drought-resistant plant species featured include rosemary, Mexican heather, soft leaf yucca, barrel cactus, cholla, red yucca, sedum, Easter cactus, Texas mountain laurel, prickly pear, Mexican bush sage, pride of Barbados, purple fountain grass, agave, and Texas sotol. Eischen’s father also donated an olive tree.

More than being aesthetically attractive, the new landscape will reduce another of the Asian jasmine’s undesirable qualities: bugs. Crickets and other insects laid eggs in the jasmine beds, posing a concern for Ransom Center collections. The rock gardens are also cleaner and more resilient, which diminishes the risk that the new plots will succumb to diseases that afflict Asian jasmine.

The final plot on the plaza has yet to be renovated, but plans for upgrades are in the works. The Ransom Center is exploring the possibility of a more interactive space, where events could take place and visitors could enjoy the beautiful landscape.

Newly xeriscaped plot in front of the Harry Ransom Center. Photo by Pete Smith.
Newly xeriscaped plot in front of the Harry Ransom Center. Photo by Pete Smith.

Photo Friday

Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.

Author Nicholson Baker signed the authors’ door while on campus for the Texas Institute for Literary and Textual Studies Symposia 2012-2013: The Fate of the Book. Photo by Pete Smith.
Author Nicholson Baker signed the authors’ door while on campus for the Texas Institute for Literary and Textual Studies Symposia 2012-2013: The Fate of the Book. Photo by Pete Smith.
Author Nicholson Baker signed the authors’ door while on campus for the Texas Institute for Literary and Textual Studies Symposia 2012-2013: The Fate of the Book. Photo by Pete Smith.
Author Nicholson Baker signed the authors’ door while on campus for the Texas Institute for Literary and Textual Studies Symposia 2012-2013: The Fate of the Book. Photo by Pete Smith.
An etched reproduction of artist Tom Lea’s 1953 portrait of J. Frank Dobie in the Ransom Center’s south atria. Photo by Pete Smith.
An etched reproduction of artist Tom Lea’s 1953 portrait of J. Frank Dobie in the Ransom Center’s south atria. Photo by Pete Smith.

Photo Friday

Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.

Norman Bel Geddes's Motor Car No. 9, with and without tail fin, in the exhibition 'I Have Seen the Future: Norman Bel Geddes Designs America.' Photo by Pete Smith.
Norman Bel Geddes's Motor Car No. 9, with and without tail fin, in the exhibition 'I Have Seen the Future: Norman Bel Geddes Designs America.' Photo by Pete Smith.
“FutureLand” guests bring their vision of the future to life with Toy Joy’s interactive "City of the Future” at the opening event. Photo by Hector Lopez.
“FutureLand” guests bring their vision of the future to life with Toy Joy’s interactive "City of the Future” at the opening event. Photo by Hector Lopez.
“FutureLand” attendees in the Norman Bel Geddes-inspired photo booth, featuring Motor Car No. 9. Photo by Tirzah Johnson.
“FutureLand” attendees in the Norman Bel Geddes-inspired photo booth, featuring Motor Car No. 9. Photo by Tirzah Johnson.