Navigate / search

Fellows Find: How Diane Johnson's writing process evolved with her work in Victorian literature and screenwriting

Undated photos of Diane Johnson.
Undated photos of Diane Johnson.

Carolyn A. Durham, Inez K. Gaylord Professor of French and Comparative Literature at the College of Wooster, spent the month of June (2011) at the Harry Ransom Center on a fellowship.  Her research in the Diane Johnson collection informs her book, Understanding Diane Johnson, which will be published by the University of South Carolina Press in 2012 as part of a series on “Understanding Contemporary American Literature.”

During the summer of 2011, I had the good fortune to spend a productive and fascinating month in residence at the Harry Ransom Center thanks to a research fellowship funded by the Center’s Filmscript Acquisitions Endowment. The extensive holdings of the Diane Johnson collection, which reflect the remarkable diversity of the novelist’s work in biography, criticism, reviewing, screenwriting, and fiction, allowed me to complete Understanding Diane Johnson, a biographical and critical study that will be published in 2012 by the University of South Carolina Press.

Johnson is always significantly concerned with the shape and form of her fiction, and the Ransom Center holdings allowed me to compare different versions of her manuscripts so that I could better understand her strategies for composition and revision. I was able to see the effect that her work in screenwriting, beginning with the co-writing of The Shining with Stanley Kubrick, had on the drafting of her novels, whose outlines increasingly resemble cinematic storyboarding. I also discovered that she habitually outlined classical novels while she was working on her own. One folder, for example, juxtaposed preliminary plans for The Shadow Knows with several outlines of Jane Austen’s Emma, a fascinating pairing given Johnson’s training as a Victorian scholar. At the same time, the sequences and charts she designed while working on Lying Low confirmed in interesting ways the affinity that she has often expressed for the narrative innovation practiced by the French New Novelists.

Because Johnson writes novels of manners that focus on the concept of America, cultural context is extremely important in the interpretation of her writing, and the Ransom Center’s collection provided me with significant data about what she was thinking and experiencing throughout her life. Johnson’s papers range from elementary school coursework to childhood and adolescent diaries to college and graduate school papers and lecture notes from her 20-year career as a college professor to such unexpected treasures as a 1968 letter from Hubert Humphrey asking her to reconsider her decision not to vote for him, a letter from Johnson objecting to being overcharged for gas written in the same ironic voice evident in her fiction, and an account of the summer she spent as a Mademoiselle guest editor, made famous by Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. Even knowing that Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique described a climate for women and a concept of marriage reflected in Johnson’s early novels, I had not expected to discover that her correspondence with Alison Lurie, beginning in the late 1950s, provided a remarkably detailed illustration of what Friedan called “the problem that has no name.”

The Ransom Center’s collection also gave me access to a good deal of information that is not available anywhere else, which includes Johnson’s first and only unpublished novel and her unpublished screenplays written for films that were to be directed by Stanley Kubrick, Mike Nichols, Francis Ford Coppola, and Wim Wenders. Her correspondence, often with other major writers, revealed the same humor, irony, and sense of satire that informs her novels and gave me important insight into what was on Johnson’s mind while she was drafting her own work.

Three Ransom Center authors announced as finalists for the 2012 PEN/Faulkner Award

Russell Banks, Don DeLillo, and Anita Desai were selected as finalists for the 2012 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.
Russell Banks, Don DeLillo, and Anita Desai were selected as finalists for the 2012 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.

Authors Russell Banks, Don DeLillo, and Anita Desai were selected as finalists for the 2012 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.  The Ransom Center holds the archives of Banks, Delillo, and Desai.

Banks was nominated for his twelfth novel Lost Memory of Skin, DeLillo was nominated for his collection of short stories The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories, and Desai was nominated for The Artist of Disappearance, a collection of three novellas.

DeLillo was awarded the PEN/Faulkner award in 1991 for his novel Mao II (1991). Banks was previously nominated for Affliction (1990) and Cloudsplitter (1999). This is the first nomination for Desai.

The winner of the 2012 PEN/Faulkner award will be announced on May 5, 2012.

To celebrate this news, the Ransom Center will give away a signed copy of a Russell Banks book. Email hrcgiveaway@gmail.com with “Banks” in the subject line by midnight CST tonight to be entered in a drawing for the book. [UPDATE: The contest has closed, and the winner has been notified. Congratulations to David J., winner of a signed copy of Affliction by Russell Banks.]

Related content:

Anita Desai’s latest book now on shelves

Don DeLillo and David Mamet honored by PEN

Notes from the Undergrad: Signature Course delves into works, life of Russell Banks

In the galleries: Russell Banks adapts to a word processor

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.

Lindsay Barras, a volunteer in the conservation department, helps construct a “pizza box” to hold an oversized book that is being repaired in the book lab.  Photo by Kelsey McKinney.
Lindsay Barras, a volunteer in the conservation department, helps construct a “pizza box” to hold an oversized book that is being repaired in the book lab. Photo by Kelsey McKinney.
Volunteer Michel McCabe-Hughes organizes slides in the photography collection. Photo by Kelsey McKinney.
Volunteer Michel McCabe-Hughes organizes slides in the photography collection. Photo by Kelsey McKinney.
Graduate intern Arcadia Falcone searches the souvenir program collection for items. Photo by Kelsey McKinney.
Graduate intern Arcadia Falcone searches the souvenir program collection for items. Photo by Kelsey McKinney.

Africa and the Archive: Researching the Transcription Centre

Samantha Pinto received a research fellowship to work in the Transcription Centre collection.
Samantha Pinto received a research fellowship to work in the Transcription Centre collection.

Georgetown University Assistant Professor of English and Women and Gender Studies Samantha Pinto is a fellow in the African and American Diaspora Studies Department at The University of Texas at Austin for the 2011–2012 year. She writes about her research in the Transcription Centre, an organization founded for African Literature and Culture based in London during the 1960s.

Pinto’s article explains the historical context of the Transcription Centre and the contemporary voices of the time. Her discoveries stem from her thorough examination of the Centre’s radio program “Africa Abroad.”

The Ransom Center annually awards more than 50 fellowships to support scholarly research projects that require on-site use of its collections.

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.

Preparator Wyndell Faulk installs a video screen in the galleries for the upcoming exhibition “The King James Bible: Its History and Influence,” which opens February 28. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.
Preparator Wyndell Faulk installs a video screen in the galleries for the upcoming exhibition “The King James Bible: Its History and Influence,” which opens February 28. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.
Marianne Fulton, a consultant who will be contributing to a book on photographer Arnold Newman, orders photographs for the project. Photo by Kelsey McKinney.
Marianne Fulton, a consultant who will be contributing to a book on photographer Arnold Newman, orders photographs for the project. Photo by Kelsey McKinney.

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 staffers stuff member invitations for the upcoming exhibition
Ransom Center staffers stuff member invitations for the upcoming exhibition
Graduate student intern Kevin Auer applies a silicone gel to a medieval text to conserve the ink on the page.  Photo by Kelsey McKinney
Graduate student intern Kevin Auer applies a silicone gel to a medieval text to conserve the ink on the page. Photo by Kelsey McKinney
Senior book conservator Olivia Primanis demonstrates the elements of book structure with intern Hsiang-Shun Huang and volunteers Christopher Jones and Margaret Schafer so they can write a treatment report before repairing
Senior book conservator Olivia Primanis demonstrates the elements of book structure with intern Hsiang-Shun Huang and volunteers Christopher Jones and Margaret Schafer so they can write a treatment report before repairing

The Letters of Hemingway: a scholar’s work in the Ransom Center archives

Ernest Hemingway as a baby. Unidentified photographer.
Ernest Hemingway as a baby. Unidentified photographer.

The recent publication of The Letters of Ernest Hemingway: Volume I, 1907-1922 has re-ignited public interest in Hemingway’s personal life and documents. In the introduction to the book, editor Sandra Spanier writes: “Hemingway’s letters constitute this autobiography in the continuous present tense. They enrich our understanding of his creative processes, offer insider insights into the twentieth-century literary scene, and document the making and marketing of an American icon.” Four of the letters from the Ransom Center’s  Hemingway collection can be found in the book.

Liesl Olson, a 2011-12 National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow, visited the Ransom Center in October 2011 to study the letters of Hemingway. In January she will become Director of the Scholl Center for American History and Culture at the Newberry Library in Chicago. She shares some of her findings from the Hemingway collection here:

“In October I spent a few days working in the Hemingway collection at the Harry Ransom Center. I was looking to learn more about the relationship between Hemingway and his Oak Park roots—especially his fraught relationship with his artistic mother, Grace Hall Hemingway. I also mined the collection for materials relevant to Hemingway’s time in Chicago, particularly during 1920-21 when he lived with friends on the north side and wrote for a fraudulent periodical called the Cooperative Commonwealth. What I found at the Ransom Center will help to complete a story that I tell about Hemingway in my book-in-progress, which is about the literary and artistic centrality of Chicago in the first half of the twentieth century.

Perhaps the most fantastic letter that Grace Hall Hemingway sent to her son is dated July 24, 1920, and it is contained in the Hemingway collection at the Ransom Center. The letter is an elaborate reprimand for Hemingway’s late-night lake escapade with friends up in Michigan. In Grace Hall Hemingway’s ten-page letter—for which she composed many drafts (also in the collection)—she conceives of the metaphor of a bank to describe their relationship, and she is quick to point out that he is “overdrawn.” Most Hemingway scholars know about this letter. But in looking at the letter in context of so many others at the Ransom Center, it is striking to learn that Hemingway’s father (who received a copy) called it a “masterpiece” and that the letter itself entered into family lore. Grace Hall Hemingway’s construction of motherhood—in a letter written in flourishing cursive script—is a striking analogue to Hemingway’s own construction of himself, much later in life, as a popular, bearded “Papa.”

I found many other collections at the Ransom Center  that help to illuminate the literary and cultural life of Chicago—especially the Alice Corbin Henderson collection. Henderson was Harriet Monroe’s editorial assistant at Poetry magazine, published in Chicago, where Hemingway’s poems first appeared in 1923. Though Hemingway’s letters to Monroe have been published—and the spectacular multi-volume Hemingway letters project will complete what has been missed—the materials at the Ransom Center provide the other side of the correspondence, the incoming letters to Hemingway. Like the 1920 letter from Grace Hall Hemingway, these letters give voice to the people and places that shaped Hemingway’s life and work.”

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.

Exhibition Services staff members remove the ‘Greenwich Village Bookshop Door: A Portal to Bohemia’ display banner after the close of the exhibition.  Photo by Kelsey McKinney.
Exhibition Services staff members remove the ‘Greenwich Village Bookshop Door: A Portal to Bohemia’ display banner after the close of the exhibition. Photo by Kelsey McKinney.
Preparator Wyndell Faulk and Chief Preparator John Wright carefully remove from display Frida Kahlo’s Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird. Photo by Pete Smith.
Preparator Wyndell Faulk and Chief Preparator John Wright carefully remove from display Frida Kahlo’s Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird. Photo by Pete Smith.
The Graduate School at The University of Texas at Austin interviewed University President William Powers Jr. at the Ransom Center about the school’s Powers Graduate Fellowship Program. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.
The Graduate School at The University of Texas at Austin interviewed University President William Powers Jr. at the Ransom Center about the school’s Powers Graduate Fellowship Program. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.

Before and After: "Ulysses" page proofs

Before: James Joyce's 'Ulysses,' 1922.
Before: James Joyce's 'Ulysses,' 1922.

When the page proofs for James Joyce’s novel Ulysses arrived in the Ransom Center’s conservation lab, the pages were torn, bound together with adhesive, and all but impossible to read. Conservators unbound the pages to reveal annotations by James Joyce, editor and publisher Sylvia Beach, and printer Maurice Darantiere.  Learn about the steps taken to conserve and house the pieces of this historical book.

From Longhorn to the "Mayor of Greenwich Village"

Lew Ney was a member of the Glee Club while he attended The University of Texas. He's pictured here in a photo from the 1906 Cactus yearbook on the bottom row, second from the right.
Lew Ney was a member of the Glee Club while he attended The University of Texas. He's pictured here in a photo from the 1906 Cactus yearbook on the bottom row, second from the right.

Before Lew Ney became the Mayor of Greenwich Village (and a signer of the door featured in the current exhibition The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door: A Portal to Bohemia, 1920–1925), he was a Longhorn. Born and raised in Austin, Texas, as Luther E. Widen, Lew Ney graduated from Austin High School and enrolled in The University of Texas in 1904. He began his undergraduate career in the College of Engineering but after one year transferred to the Humanities Department. He was an active member of the Glee Club as a second tenor for three years before leaving the University in 1907.

Ultimately, Ney received his undergraduate degree from Nebraska and his

Detail of Ney from the Cactus yearbook photo.
Detail of Ney from the Cactus yearbook photo.

master’s degree  in psychology at Iowa State University. He moved to Greenwich Village in the early 1920s and married Ruth Thompson in 1928. He was known in the Village as a writer, printer, type designer, and publisher. Most notably, he published the magazine Parnassus and the early works of writers Parker Tyler and Maxwell Bodenheim.  He is most famous for his creation of the exquisite typesetting font (L283) that was well suited for poetic works.

Eventually, Ney would become a community character proclaimed “the Mayor of Greenwich Village.”

The bookshop door with Ney’s signature is on display in The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door: A Portal to Bohemia, 1920–1925 through January 22. Also, visit the related web exhibition, which uses the door as an entryway into the lives, careers, and relationships of New York bohemians of that era.

Special thanks to The Alcalde for assisting with the yearbook images.

Published by Lew Ney, 'Blues: A Magazine of New Rhythms 8' was founded by Parker Tyler, and Charles Henri Ford, who dropped out of high school to edit it. This spring 1930 issue was published when Ford was just seventeen. It features several writers whose archives reside at the Ransom Center: Tyler, Ford, Paul Bowles, and Louis Zukofsky. The Center also houses important collections of contributors Kay Boyle, John Herrmann, Gertrude Stein, and William Carlos Williams.
Published by Lew Ney, 'Blues: A Magazine of New Rhythms 8' was founded by Parker Tyler, and Charles Henri Ford, who dropped out of high school to edit it. This spring 1930 issue was published when Ford was just seventeen. It features several writers whose archives reside at the Ransom Center: Tyler, Ford, Paul Bowles, and Louis Zukofsky. The Center also houses important collections of contributors Kay Boyle, John Herrmann, Gertrude Stein, and William Carlos Williams.