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Fleur’s Fleurs: "Flower Game" reveals friends and their favorite flowers

The personal archive of publisher, author, and artist Fleur Cowles (1908–2009) has been donated to the Ransom Center. The materials will be accessible once processed and cataloged, but an initial assessment confirms that the archive is as dynamic as Cowles was herself.

In 1983, Cowles celebrated the publication of The Flower Game, a book that shared hundreds of responses from friends around the world, all answering the question of what ten flowers they would like to take to a lonely island, assuming anything would grow there.

When soliciting friends, Cowles wrote, “The replies will determine the best loved flowers everywhere (I am writing to many places around the world).”

Participants ranged from European to Hollywood royalty, proving that Cowles didn’t limit herself to a continent nor to small social circles. A detailed chart documents the progress of Cowles’s initiative, revealing the friends invited to participate and the dates for solicitation and receipt.

Just as these responses provide insight into Cowles’s broad personal and professional network, the hundreds of typed and handwritten, signed responses represent just a small fraction of the correspondence found in the archive.

Below are highlights from a handful of the participants.

Cecil Beaton:
Photographer Beaton provided not only his list of flowers but also a handwritten note stating “Any large white orchid of any variety, as long as it is white.”

Candice Bergen:
Actress Bergen’s list included wisteria and night-blooming jasmine, and she elaborated on her selections: “Flowers to see and smell—by day and night—that bloom underfoot and hang overhead, plus a few insect escorts—butterflies and caterpillars, the odd ladybug—for company.”
November 28, 1981

Olivia de Havilland:
Actress de Havilland gave herself an hour to construct her list, which contained water lilies, blue bells, and peonies.

Douglas Fairbanks:
Actor Fairbanks’s list includes a reference to his trademark carnation. Topping his list at number one is “The dark red (or Harvard red) carnation, as I have worn one in my button-hole actually since I have had a button-hole.”
March 6, 1979

Jane Goodall:
The challenge of selecting flowers was difficult for anthropologist Goodall, who wrote, “The first 6 flowers were very easy to chose—but the last 4 were much harder. Not because it is difficult to think of 4 flowers one loves, but because it is difficult to reject others.”
February 27, 1979

Princess Grace of Monaco:
Listed among her favorite flowers, Princess Grace included bamboo, noting, “I hope you will accept bamboo although I have never seen it flower.”
March 7, 1979

David Hicks:
Among his list of flowers, designer and interior decorator Hicks includes datura, hyacinth, and tuberose.
July 8, 1980

Lady Bird Johnson:
Former First Lady “Lady Bird” Johnson touted resilient flowers, claiming “Since I am an intensely practical person, I would choose flowers which give the most results for the least work and Zinnias and Marigolds and white Daisies would have to be on my list of favorite flowers. In my lifetime experience, I have found them to be so hardy and they give a great profusion of color over long weeks—I’ve always saluted their generosity!”
February 8, 1979

Laurence Olivier:
Actor Olivier’s list focused on roses. He wrote, “At the moment my gardening mind is filled with roses, so let me offer you a dozen of these.” Some of the varieties included Papa Meilland, Panorama Holiday (an exquisite pink, commonly named Beautiful Flower) and Blue Moon.
August 10, 1981

Nancy Reagan:
Former First Lady Nancy Reagan’s list included sweet peas, freesia, and violets.

Liz Smith:
Journalist Smith, a native Texan, elaborated on her list, “But my favorites, the ones I would have to have, are the lovelies—the wildflowers of Texas: Bluebonnets, winecups, Indian paintbrush, wild daisies, wild poppies—a collage of color and nostalgia.”
June 10, 1980

Rufino Tamayo:
Among some of the Mexican artist’s favorites, Tamayo includes the calla lily, hibiscus, and the yucca.
April 3, 1979

 

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A glimpse into J. M. Coetzee’s bound drafts: "Life & Times of Michael K"

The day-to-day work of a special-collections curator does not leave much time for actually reading manuscripts, despite assumptions to the contrary on the part of outsiders. I sometimes look with envy at researchers who sit with one document for hours at a time. So it was with great anticipation that I set aside time to survey a shipping carton containing drafts of J. M. Coetzee’s 1983 novel Life & Times of Michael K. I chose it because I was halfway through my first reading of this, the writer’s fourth novel and the recipient of his first Booker Prize. After my brief encounter with this novel’s drafts, I could only imagine the rich research potential of the Coetzee archive as a whole.

The novel concerns Michael K, a gardener of unidentified race who may or may not be mentally challenged. When his mother, Anna, becomes ill, he leaves work to care for her. Anna works as a domestic servant for a wealthy couple and lives in a tiny room beneath their expensive apartment in Cape Town. When the city erupts into violent unrest, the wealthy couple flee, and Michael and Anna briefly inhabit their apartment and then begin a long trek to escape the war-ravaged city for the countryside where Anna once lived; I won’t give away the remainder of the story. The portion of the story described above is told in a flat third-person voice, the distanced narration contrasting dramatically with the appalling physical and emotional conditions of the two main characters.

Like the remainder of the Coetzee papers, the drafts of Michael K arrived at the Ransom Center in remarkably good order, carefully arranged by Coetzee (my pleasure in perusing these materials was enhanced by Coetzee’s elegant, eminently legible handwriting—a rare boon for archival researchers). The novel’s nine drafts are held in five hand-bound volumes, and all but the last are titled simply “#4.” Each draft is numbered and bound in sequence. All of the drafts are written (and in one case typed) in one or more yellow or blue University of Cape Town examination books; each of these is likewise carefully numbered and marked with the appropriate version number. Coetzee appears to have bound the volumes together himself, using whatever materials were near at hand: while some are anchored in large file folders using brads, others are bound in large sheets cut from heavy cardboard shipping boxes, held together by hand-cut pieces of thick metal wire bent and pushed through the hole-punched manuscripts. The resulting artifacts have a charm that belies the novelist’s very serious and explicit intent to preserve a linear record of the novel’s composition.

This compositional record is indeed replete with opportunities for scholars of Michael K. The earliest versions of the novel reveal that Coetzee settled upon several foundational elements of the finished novel early on: the characters are named Anna (or Annie) and Michael. They are related. Anna lives in a room on the ground floor of an expensive apartment complex, and her employers flee. She is ill, and Michael comes to help her. Even some wordings in the earliest drafts appear in the finished novel.

But these similarities are accompanied by profound differences. The first five versions are perhaps best described as windows into alternate realities for the characters of Michael and Anna K, who are reimagined anew by Coetzee as he seeks to determine the nature of the novel’s central relationship. In the first version, Michael is Anna’s son, but he is a brilliant poet, not a gardener who is perceived as dimwitted. In the second, Michael is again her son, but is married and has a child; his wife is killed, and his child taken away before he comes to stay with his mother. In the third, Michael is Anna’s young grandson and worships his absent father (notably, this draft is told entirely in the first person by the child). In the fourth, he is her adult grandson who works as a gardener. In the fifth version, he is Anna’s common-law husband.

Only in the sixth version does Coetzee settle upon the published relationship; this heavily annotated draft is much longer than the ones that precede it and appears to mark a major shift in the compositional process. I skimmed through the later drafts and found further interesting changes too numerous to mention here, but found myself repeatedly returning to the variant Michaels and Annas, wondering how many further variations Coetzee may have considered, and wondering, too, at the elements that he apparently never doubted. For instance, he knew from the beginning that Anna’s legs would be swollen—this detail is described in grim detail in the published novel and appears often in the early drafts—but did not know whether the woman’s son, grandson, or husband would cope with this ailment.

The Annas and Michaels have stayed with me, and I have already started reading the novel again from the first page, seeking traces of those lost characters and viewing the swollen legs, the room beneath the apartment, and the names “Anna” and “Michael” with fresh attention.

 

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Coetzee’s ties to Texas date back almost 50 years

The acquisition of Nobel laureate J. M. Coetzee’s archive by the Ransom Center is a fitting tribute to the writer’s long-standing ties to The University of Texas at Austin and, in a way, brings his relationship with the University full circle.

Coetzee enrolled in the University in 1965, and he earned his Ph.D. in English, linguistics, and Germanic languages in 1968. While at the University, he conducted research in the Ransom Center’s collections for his dissertation on the early fiction of Samuel Beckett.

In a 1984 essay for the New York Times titled “How I Learned About America—and Africa—in Texas,” Coetzee writes about working in the collections at the Ransom Center:

“In the Manuscripts Room of the library, I found the exercise books in which Samuel Beckett had written “Watt” on a farm in the south of France, hiding out from the Germans. I spent weeks perusing them, pondering the sketches and numbers and doodles in the margins, disconcerted to find the well-attested agony of composing a masterpiece had left no other traces than these flippancies. Was the pain perhaps all in the waiting, I asked myself, in the sitting and staring at the empty page?”

Once the Coetzee archive is cataloged, students will have access to Coetzee’s own papers for scholarly work and perhaps will explore some of these same questions about the writer’s process.

Coetzee was on campus during the Charles Whitman shooting in 1966, and in the same essay, he recalls hiding under a desk during the ordeal. He also recalls happier times on campus spent with cricket teammates and traveling to College Station to play the Aggie team, also composed mostly of students from colonial countries. Coetzee lived in Austin with his wife during those three years, and their son Nicholas was born here.

Coetzee returned to the University as a guest of the linguistics department and again in 1995 to teach students in the MFA program at the Michener Center for Writers. Student evaluations from his time at the Michener Center are included among his papers, and the anonymous responses are almost unanimous in their praise.

“John Coetzee has an astonishing mind,” wrote one student.

“I feel very fortunate to have had him as a teacher,” wrote another. “His intellect is world-class. I admire his writing as well as his teaching. He parses meaning with rather exquisite precision, displays humor, never loses the larger sense. He has high standards but was always approachable. He guided classroom discussions with a light hand—they were spontaneous but not chaotic. He was, in short, very great—interesting and interested.”

The Texas Exes, the alumni organization for The University of Texas at Austin, awarded Coetzee the Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2004.

Coetzee returned to the University once more in May 2010 to give a talk as part of the Graduate School‘s 1910 Society Lecture Series, which celebrated the 100th anniversary of the school.

In his talk, Coetzee said of his time in Austin: “My free hours I spent in the library, which I cannot praise more highly than to say it did not know all the treasures it contained.”

Scholars, researchers, and students will no doubt be mining the Coetzee archive in the coming years in search of the many treasures that it contains.

 

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Nobel Prize-winning writer J. M. Coetzee's archive acquired

A portrait of J. M. Coetzee taken during his visit to The University of Texas at Austin in May 2010. Photo by Marsha Miller.
A portrait of J. M. Coetzee taken during his visit to The University of Texas at Austin in May 2010. Photo by Marsha Miller.

The Ransom Center has acquired the archive of Nobel Prize-winning writer and University of Texas at Austin alumnus J. M. Coetzee. Spanning more than 50 years, the archive traces the author’s life and career from 1956 through the present.

“My association with The University of Texas goes back almost half a century,” said Coetzee. “It is very satisfying to me to know that my papers will find a home at the Ransom Center, one of the world’s great research collections.”

Coetzee was born in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1940 and graduated from the University of Cape Town. After working three years as a computer programmer in England, he enrolled in The University of Texas at Austin in 1965 to pursue his Ph.D. in English, linguistics, and Germanic languages, which he earned in 1969. While at the university, he conducted research in the Ransom Center’s collections for his dissertation on the early fiction of Samuel Beckett.

Coetzee is an acclaimed novelist, academic, and literary critic. Influenced by his personal history of growing up in South Africa, he writes with strong anti-imperialist feelings. He has published 13 books, including Life & Times of Michael K in 1983 and Disgrace in 1999. Both novels received the Man Booker Prize, awarded each year for best full-length novel, making Coetzee the first author to receive the award twice.

Remembering Penelope Fitzgerald: “We Can Only Hope It Keeps Going.”

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Philip Christensen, College Associate Dean for Curriculum Development at Suffolk County Community College, maintained a seven-year correspondence with novelist Penelope Fitzgerald, whose archive is housed at the Ransom Center. Christensen recently donated the letters from their correspondence to the Ransom Center, and in this essay, he shares some of the contents of those exchanges.

Email and social media appear virtually spontaneous, and yet, as Robert McCrum conceded in a recent blog on The Guardian’s website, “a physical correspondence, an exchange of missives, in envelopes, carries more freight than a high speed email.” In 1993, I mailed a letter to British novelist Penelope Fitzgerald, care of her publisher, asking if she would read my paper on her uncle Ronald Knox, the once renowned Catholic apologist best remembered today for his “Detective Story Decalogue.” To my surprise, she wrote back, thus beginning a literary correspondence that came to a close, in April 2000, when I received an email, with the subject “Condolences” and a link to her obituary in The New York Times. (Terence Dooley, Fitzgerald’s literary executor and the editor of So I Have Thought of You: the Letters of Penelope Fitzgerald, and Hermione Lee, Fitzgerald’s biographer, have kindly given permission to quote from these unpublished letters.)

Fitzgerald corresponded in aerogrammes, those blue papers that fold into their own airmail envelopes, and I recall opening each with surgical precision, for fear of excising her graceful marginalia, in italic hand, along the folds. Surely, Fitzgerald must have found my typescripts diffident and rehearsed, but she never hinted at any disparity, and, after an initial “Penelope Fitzgerald,” she signed her letters “Penelope.”

Penelope, a former tutor, regarded teaching as “some of the hardest work on earth.” Her lessons must have been memorably aphoristic. Of Hamlet’s “undiscovered country,” she wrote: “it is a difficult subject, I think, as poor Hamlet must have felt that one traveller at least returned too often,” or, regarding the challenge of understanding the Duke in Measure for Measure: “he does break into octosyllabics at one point, & Shakespeare usually keeps them for actors with magic power.” She agreed that Let Dons Delight was Uncle Ronnie’s best book, and added that his invention of fictional disputations at an imaginary Oxford college, from 1588 to 1938, “carries imitation of the past to the point of second sights.”  When I made a passing reference to Vladimir and Estragon as modern pilgrims, she chided: “Surely, there are no ‘pilgrims’ in Waiting for Godot. Productions over here usually show Vladimir & Estragon as tramps, but as a matter of fact they are clowns, whose relationship to society is quite different.”

Penelope was philosophical about her late celebrity, writing that her reputation “is up now, but it will go down” and, within the context of her short story “The Red Haired Girl,” encouraged me not to give up: “it’s certainly never too late to be a writer.” She was also open about discussing her own work. In one letter, she described laying the foundation, almost literally, of a fictitious college in The Gate of Angels: “I walked all round Cambridge to find a spare piece of ground where another ancient college—a small one—could have been built.” She also commended one of my students for her essay on the same novel: “The references to divine providence I thought were very good because I didn’t mention it in the book but left it to be understood by discerning readers.”

Penelope, who thought her novels too British for Americans, was impressed by their sheer energy. When I wrote about a possible move from New York to Jackson, Mississippi, she replied, “Americans think nothing of tremendous moves, they just pack everything in the car and drive away.” She was also stirred by their good will. In reminiscences years after her visit to the Harry Ransom Center, which had purchased selections of her papers, her memory of nagging financial worries is assuaged by the kindnesses of the university staff: “I went to consult something in the University library, and had to manage on 2 dollars a day, but it was quite possible, if you just had breakfast, and I’ll never forget the patience & courtesy with which I was treated at the Humanities Library.”

As her American readership began to grow, Penelope gave all the credit to Houghton Mifflin, her new American publisher. American publication of The Blue Flower in April 1997 resulted in its wider recognition, including the cover page of The New York Times Book Review and in 1998, the first year of eligibility for non-American writers, the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. In a letter written shortly thereafter, she so typically deflected the spotlight from herself and onto Christopher Carduff, her American editor: “It was a great encouragement for my wonderful book editor at Houghton Mifflin, who flew to New York with a ready-written speech in his pocket just in case it was necessary, and, lo and behold, it was.”

Twice, Penelope was selected as a judge for the Man Booker Prize, which her novel Offshore received in 1979. Shortly after her second Booker stint, in 1998, she wrote about the weariness following this task: “I have to admit that I’m glad the Booker is over—it’s bad enough having to judge it, but worse still, during the dinner an alternative panel of judges is broadcasting from a cellar beneath your feet and contradicting everything you say.”

Penelope often reflected on “time’s fell hand,” for instance in her memories of The Sole Bay Bookshop, in Southwold, and the inspiration of her second novel, which “has now alas closed its doors.” She was relieved that her father Edmund George Valpy (“Evoe”) Knox, editor of Punch for nearly two decades (1932 to 1949), “didn’t live to see the disappearance of Punch, which would once have seemed hardly believable” or that her Uncle Ronnie, whose unecumenism appeared hopelessly out of place after Vatican II, can be judged, “like the rest of us, only in terms of the time he lived in.” One Advent, she abruptly closed with wishes haunted by the recent death of her brother Rawle: “I’m lucky to be with my family this Christmas, although I was very sad to lose my brother this year. He was an old man & I’m getting to be an old woman,” and, elsewhere, her perfect balance of concession and grace is faultless in her observation of grandchildren at play: “I haven’t been so well lately, but hearing my grandchildren play football (handicapped by the kitten) in the garden just outside my window made me feel better.”

To this day, one of Penelope’s letters remains undelivered, “a catastrophe” she blamed on the “confused postal service.” I remain hopeful this letter, retrieved from some untidy corner at the Royal Mail, will one day miraculously appear, evidence of what the editors of her selected essays confidently call The Afterlife (2000). Penelope once wrote, regarding the Old Vic: “We can only hope it keeps going,” a sentiment she playfully applied to herself. This reminiscence is dedicated to her, with the hope that this conversation will “keep going” for a long time.

Photographer Elliott Erwitt’s archive to be housed at the Ransom Center

The archive of photographer Elliott Erwitt (b. 1928), which includes more than 50,000 signed photographic prints, will be housed at the Ransom Center. Spanning more than six decades of Erwitt’s career, the archive covers not only his work for magazine, industrial, and advertising clients but also photographs that have emerged from personal interests.

Collectors and philanthropists Caryl and Israel Englander have placed the archive at the Ransom Center for five years, making it accessible to researchers, scholars, and students.

Born in Paris to Russian émigré parents, Erwitt spent his formative years in Milan and then immigrated to the United States, living in Los Angeles and ultimately New York. In 1948, Erwitt actively began his career and met photographers Robert Capa, Edward Steichen, and Roy Stryker, all who would become mentors.

In 1953, Erwitt was invited to join Magnum Photos by Capa, one of the founders of the photographic co-operative. Ten years later, Erwitt became president of the agency for three terms. A member of the Magnum organization for more than 50 years, Erwitt’s archive will be held alongside the Magnum Photos collection at the Ransom Center.

In addition to providing access to the archive, the Ransom Center will promote interest in the collection through lectures, fellowships, and exhibitions. The Erwitt materials are currently being prepared for public access.

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Image: USA. Arlington, Virginia. November 25, 1963. Jacqueline KENNEDY at John F. KENNEDY’s funeral.

Commentary Magazine Archive Donated to Ransom Center

Commentary magazine has donated its archive to the Ransom Center. Founded in November 1945, just months after World War II, Commentary magazine was established to reconnect assimilated American Jews and Jewish intellectuals with the broader Jewish community and to bring the ideas of young Jewish intellectuals to a wider audience.

According to historian Richard Pells, Professor Emeritus at The University of Texas at Austin, “no other journal of the past half century has been so consistently influential, or so central to the major debates that have transformed the political and intellectual life of the United States.”

Throughout its history, Commentary has published significant articles on historical, political, cultural and theological issues in addition to fiction and memoirs. The magazine has a reputation for featuring many of the leading intellectual and cultural figures of the time.

Spanning from 1945 to 1995, the archive consists mainly of editorial correspondence, galleys and other records. The collection contains correspondence with a number of writers whose archives reside at the Ransom Center, including Norman Mailer, Bernard Malamud and Isaac Bashevis Singer, in addition to correspondence with S. Y. Agnon, Hannah Arendt, James Baldwin, Saul Bellow, William F. Buckley, George W. Bush, Henry Kissinger, George Orwell, Amos Oz, Philip Roth, Elie Wiesel, Tom Wolfe, and A. B. Yehoshua.

 

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"The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" collection donated to Ransom Center

Lobby poster for the Broadway production of 'The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.'
Lobby poster for the Broadway production of 'The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.'

The Harry Ransom Center  has received a donation of a collection of materials from husband-wife duo actress Carlin Glynn and writer and director Peter Masterson relating to their careers and their work on the original Broadway production and film of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

The collection consists of eight document boxes of materials, half of which relate to the 1978 musical. The musical was directed by Masterson, who also co-authored the book with Larry L. King. Carol Hall wrote the lyrics for the musical. The stage musical starred Glynn as Mona Stangley, the owner of a brothel in the fictional town of Gilbert, Texas. The show ran for more than 1,500 performances on Broadway, toured extensively and was adapted to film in 1982.

“We chose the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin to house our film and theatrical works and memorabilia, as so much of it is fueled by our Texas roots,” said Glynn and Masterson. “The Ransom Center is the leading theatrical and cinematic archive and will display our work properly so that it may be of value to future generations.”

The collection tracks the musical from its genesis to its stage performance and film adaptation through multiple versions of the stage and film script, publicity photographs, correspondence and financial documents related to the premiere, documents related to the West End production and other touring productions, and correspondence related to the development of the film script.

Ransom Center acquires archive of film director Nicholas Ray

The Ransom Center has acquired the archive of film director Nicholas Ray (1911–1979), best known for his film Rebel Without a Cause.

Spanning more than 35 years, materials in the collection include, but are not limited to, Ray’s work on They Live By Night (1949), In A Lonely Place (1950), Flying Leathernecks (1951), Rebel Without a Cause (1955), Run for Cover (1955), Bitter Victory (1957) and 55 Days at Peking (1963). Rebel Without a Cause starred James Dean, Sal Mineo and Natalie Wood.

The holdings include original treatments, annotated scripts, photographs, journals, notes, audio reels, video recordings and film that provide an account of Ray’s working methods and ideas.

Also included are materials from Ray’s teaching career, which he began in 1971. Ray taught film directing and acting at Harpur College of Arts and Sciences at Binghamton University, New York University and the Lee Strasberg Institute.

Storyboards from Rebel Without a Cause reveal a different ending from the film that was released. In the alternate ending as originally planned, Plato, played by Mineo, is shot from the dome of the planetarium. The archive’s 64 storyboards contain Ray’s handwritten dialogue and directions. Almost all of Ray’s dialogue changes were incorporated into the film.

Ray’s most ambitious personal project was the experimental film We Can’t Go Home Again (1973–1976), which he made with students at Harpur. A version of the film screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 1973, but Ray continued working and editing the film until his death. Materials relating to the autobiographical project include hours of edited work print, rushes, cut negative, editing notes and journal entries.

Storyboards from Rebel Without a Cause will be displayed on the first floor of the Center from July 28 through Aug. 31. Once processed, cataloged and housed, the collection will be available for research in the fall.

 

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Science fiction writer Bruce Sterling donates collection of materials to Ransom Center

Notes for 'The Difference Engine' by Bruce Sterling and William Gibson. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
Notes for 'The Difference Engine' by Bruce Sterling and William Gibson. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.

American science fiction writer Bruce Sterling has donated a collection of materials to the Ransom Center. Sterling, an alumnus of the University, is known as one of the co-founders of the “cyberpunk” movement in the 1980s, with William Gibson, Rudy Rucker, John Shirley, and others. In Sterling’s introduction to Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology (1986), he defines the movement as “an unholy alliance of the technical world of pop culture, visionary, fluidity, and street-level anarchy.” The anthology, which Sterling edited, examines what happens when scientific discoveries push the boundaries of human knowledge.

The bulk of the collection, which spans from the early 1980s to the present, comprises more than 250 books from his library and 322 serial volumes, along with a set of posters from Russian films (ca. 1986). Many of the books are various editions of works by Sterling, and many of the periodicals contain articles or stories Sterling wrote.

The collection also contains drafts of several of Sterling’s major works. Late drafts of Holy Fire (1996), Heavy Weather (1994), and the unpublished Angel Engines are included, and multiple drafts in various stages can be found for Islands in the Net (1988) and Schismatrix (1985).

The novel The Difference Engine (1990), which Sterling wrote with Gibson, is well-represented with manuscript drafts and notebooks of chapters. Microcassettes of what appear to be phone conversations between the two discussing the work are also included. For this novel, Sterling conducted research in the rare book collections in the Ransom Center’s reading room, and his research notes are included in the materials.