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James Salter: What’s occupying my time lately

By Alicia Dietrich

James Salter, author of A Sport and a Pastime and the acclaimed new novel All That Is, will discuss his life and work with Professor Thomas F. Staley tonight at 7 p.m. at the Ransom Center. Salter’s archive resides at the Center. Below, he updates Cultural Compass on what he’s been up to this year.

 

Following a long period of writing, I’ve finally gotten around to some reading.

 

I’ve been reading a book, not yet published, about the artist-heroes in the works of Thomas Mann.  There are so many magnificent German names and cultural references that I decided to read Doctor Faustus in the Vintage edition, or maybe The Magic Mountain. I like the intoxicated feeling of having a great number of things I want to read and the excitement of beginning. A French writer, Jacques Bonnet, in a book called Phantoms on the Bookshelf writes about the pleasure and great burden of owning a huge collection of books, that is to say books made of paper. He likes to surround himself physically with books that over the years have come to fill every available foot of wall space in his house. He likes to be able to see all the books, let his eye fall on them and when reading them feel the pages in his hand. It was in Bonnet’s book that I came across the names of many writers, usually European, I had never heard of, but also some Japanese writers including one named Kafu Nagai who had lived in the United States for a time, wrote about the Floating World, and sounded interesting. I’ve always liked Japanese writers, not only the famous ones but also some little known, such as Masuji Ibuse and Motojiro Kajii.

 

I ordered a book by Kafu Nagai and it arrived, but before I could begin reading it, an obituary appeared in the paper a few days ago for Marcel Reich-Ranicki who had died in Berlin at the age of 93. I am 88, so I felt a kinship. Reich-Ranicki was the pre-eminent German literary critic, born in Poland, Jewish, who miraculously survived the war and devoted his life to the literature of a people he never stopped fearing. He had written a highly praised autobiography, which I learned had been translated. I looked it up on Amazon. It was for sale for $5,700. Instead of pursuing that astounding discovery or misprint, I settled for ordering another of his books instead, Thomas Mann and His Family, six children, several of them becoming writers themselves, two of them committing suicide. I am half way through it, and as soon as I finish must get back to Nagai.

Related Content:

-Read about Salter’s writing advice discovered in his archive

-View a list of books recommended by Salter

-Listen to an audio interview with Salter from March 2007

Image:  Photo of James Salter by Corina Arranz.

James Salter speaks this week at the Ransom Center

By Jane Robbins Mize

Writer James Salter, whose archive resides at the Ransom Center, will discuss his life and work with Professor Thomas F. Staley on Thursday, November 7 at 7:00 p.m.

 

Salter is the author of A Sport and a Pastime and the acclaimed new novel All That Is. He received the 1989 PEN/Faulkner Award for his collection Dusk and Other Stories, as well as the 2012 Pen/Malamud Award, which honors excellence in the art of the short story.

 

A book signing of All That Is will follow the lecture.

 

In honor of his appearance, the Ransom Center is giving away a book signed by Salter. Email hrcgiveaway@gmail.com with “Salter” in the subject line by midnight CST on Thursday, November 7 to be entered in a drawing for the book. Attendees will also have the opportunity to win an autographed copy of A Sport and a Pastime and From Gutenberg to Gone with the Wind: Treasures from the Ransom Center.

 

Doors open at 6:20 p.m. for members and at 6:30 p.m. for the public. Complimentary parking for members is available at the University Co-op garage at 23rd and San Antonio streets.

 

This Harry Ransom Lecture is presented by the University Co-op.

 

Related Content:

-Read about Salter’s writing advice discovered in his archive

-View a list of books recommended by Salter

-Listen to an audio interview with Salter from March 2007

 

Image: Cover of James Salter’s novel All That Is.

Ransom Center’s Nuremberg Chronicle on view at the Blanton Museum

By Jane Robbins Mize

A copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle from the Ransom Center’s collections is on view at The University of Texas at Austin’s Blanton Museum of Art as part of the exhibition Imperial Augsburg: Renaissance Prints and Drawings, 1475–1540.

 

The exhibition, organized by the National Gallery of Art in Washington with loans from private and public collections, emphasizes the rich and varied works on paper produced in Renaissance Augsburg. “One of the oldest cities in Germany, Augsburg was founded as a Roman military fortress in 15 BCE,” said Catherine Zinser, the Blanton’s curator of exhibitions. “During the reign of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I (1459–1519), Augsburg hosted the Imperial Council and became the center from which the emperor organized all of his print and armor commissions. The combined influences of this important seat of government and Augsburg’s location at the crossroads of international trade manifested a diverse artistic community and a thriving art market.”

 

The Nuremberg Chronicle, an illustrated world history spanning from the biblical Creation of the world to its publication in 1493, depicts Augsburg as a walled city with many churches. One of Nuremberg’s leading artists, Michel Wolgmut, and his stepson, Wilhelm Pleydenwurff, were commissioned to illustrate the publication, which would become the largest book project of its kind in the late fifteenth century. Together, with a workshop of artisans, including a young Albrecht Dürer, Wolgmut and Pleydenwurff created more than 1,800 illustrations from 645 wood blocks. The Nuremberg Chronicle highlights important Western cities, and Augsburg’s prominent, two-page spread speaks to the city’s position as a major center for trade, manufacturing, and publishing.

 

The Ransom Center holds more copies of the Nuremberg Chronicle–one of the earliest printed books and the first with an existing design–than any other library in the country. The Nuremberg Chronicle along with other prints, drawings, and artifacts are on view at the Blanton Museum through January 5.

Jayne Anne Phillips publishes new novel

By Jane Robbins Mize

This October, Jayne Anne Phillips has released her newest novel, Quiet Dell. Described by Stephen King as “a compulsively readable story,” the novel is based on the true and mysterious murder of a widow and her children living in Quiet Dell, West Virginia.

 

Phillips, whose archive resides at the Ransom Center, is the author of six novels and short story collections and the recipient of literary prizes including a Guggenheim fellowship and two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships. Her novel Lark and Termite was a finalist for the 2009 National Book Award.

 

Related Content:
-Listen to Phillips read from Lark and Termite at the Ransom Center.

-Memory as source in Jayne Anne Phillip’s Machine Dreams

-View a list of books recommended by Phillips

William Makepeace Thackeray’s chorus of witches

By Abigail Cain

Although best known for his 1848 novel Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray was not always a writer. After college and a brief stint studying law, he moved to Paris to try his hand as a painter. Gambling and unsuccessful business ventures decimated his inherited fortune, however, and Thackeray was forced to move to London, where he supported his new wife by becoming a journalist.

 

Despite a career change, Thackeray did not forget his artistic background. His collection at the Ransom Center contains a number of sketches, including proofs of illustrations for comic tales and quick drawings in the margins of his letters. The archive also houses a small journal from 1840 that Thackeray might have taken with him on his travels. Within its three-inch-tall covers are pencil sketches of sailors lounging on the deck of a boat, a woman bent over a writing desk, and a child’s cradle. Although some drawings are more finished than others, all display a steady hand and an eye for form.

 

Thackeray also illustrated several of his own novels. The spooky sketch pictured above is one such illustration, taken from his 1859 novel The Virginians: A Tale of the Last Century. As its name suggests, the book was set chiefly in colonial Virginia and follows the family of an English colonel, the title character from an earlier Thackeray novel The History of Henry Esmond. If these witches bear a resemblance to those from Macbeth, it might not be coincidence—in The Virginians, several characters attend a performance of the play.

 

For more sketches by Thackeray, as well as manuscripts of writings, drawings, and letters by and about this English author, explore his archive.

 

Image: Ink sketch by William Makepeace Thackeray.

Norman Mailer’s biographer J. Michael Lennon discusses research for his book “Norman Mailer: A Double Life”

By Abigail Cain

Cover of “Norman Mailer: A Double Life” by J. Michael Lennon.
Cover of “Norman Mailer: A Double Life” by J. Michael Lennon.

In January 1971, J. Michael Lennon wrote a letter of encouragement to Norman Mailer after watching the author get into a raucous televised debate with Gore Vidal. Mailer responded, sparking a lifelong correspondence between the pair.

 

Lennon went on to become Mailer’s personal archivist and authorized biographer, as well as Emeritus Vice President and Emeritus Professor of English at Wilkes University. He has written and edited a number of books about Mailer, including Norman Mailer: Works and Days (2000). His most recent book, Norman Mailer: A Double Life, comes out today. This biography draws on unpublished documents, including Mailer’s letters, as well as Lennon’s personal relationship with the author. In 2009-2010, Lennon visited the Ransom Center on a fellowship funded by the Norman Mailer Endowed Fund to conduct research for the biography. Cultural Compass spoke with Lennon about his new book, his work in the Ransom Center’s archive, what first attracted him to Mailer’s writing, and more.

 

You knew Mailer well before starting work on Norman Mailer: A Double Life. While researching and writing, were you ever surprised by anything you learned about him?

 

I was surprised at the intensity of his depression after his second novel, Barbary Shore, received extremely negative reviews in 1951. He became more depressed (but not clinically) than I had previously thought and actually investigated the possibility of working in a prison or becoming a lawyer. The other things that surprised me were the extent of his many passionate love affairs and the number of young writers, hundreds of them, with whom he corresponded, and encouraged, something that went on from the 1950s until his death in 2007.

 

What do you hope readers will take away from the book?

 

I hope readers will see how immersed Mailer was in the great events and issues of the latter half of the twentieth century and the first years of the next one. He saw and wrote about World War II, the Cold War and the espionage and counter-espionage that accompanied it, the Civil Rights and Women’s Liberation movements, technology and the environmental movement, and the early space exploration effort. Mailer not only wrote about these things, he also debated them publicly on just about every major talk show in existence. He is the most important public intellectual from the literary world in my lifetime. He was also a terrific biographer and wrote memorable biographical books and essays on a score of iconic figures, from Marilyn Monroe and Madonna to JFK, Muhammad Ali, and Hemingway. Also some infamous individuals—Gary Gilmore, Lee Harvey Oswald, and Hitler. And Jesus Christ, in his 1997 novel, The Gospel According to the Son.

 

What first drew you to Norman Mailer as an author?

 

His daring, his edgy style, his exploration of his identity, and his self-awareness.

 

The Mailer archive is the largest single-author collection at the Ransom Center. Have you been through every box? How do you organize and prioritize your work in the archive?

 

Yes, I think I have handled every piece of paper in it. Building on the pioneering work of Robert F. Lucid, my mentor, my wife and I organized Mailer’s papers and then helped the Ransom Center’s staff create the Mailer finding aid. During my several visits to the Center, I used the finding aid to organize my request list so that I could spend my time reading and note-taking. The system devised by Steve Mielke and his team made my research efforts considerably easier. I am indebted to the Ransom Center for expert and thoughtful help over the past eight years.

Jim Crace shortlisted for Booker Prize

By Alicia Dietrich

Cover of Jim Crace's novel "Harvest."
Cover of Jim Crace's novel "Harvest."

Author Jim Crace, whose archive resides at the Ransom Center, has been shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize for Fiction for his novel Harvest (Nan A. Talese/Picador).

Crace was previously shortlisted for the Booker Prize for his 1997 novel Quarantine. The winner of the Booker will be announced at a ceremony in London on Ocober 15.

To celebrate this news, Cultural Compass will be giving away a signed copy of Crace’s novel The Pesthouse. To be eligible to win, tweet a link to this blog post and mention @ransomcenter. If you’re not on Twitter, send an email to hrcgiveaway@gmail.com with “Booker Prize” in the subject line. All tweets and emails must be sent by midnight CST tonight, and winners will be drawn and notified tomorrow, September 12. [Update: The giveaway is now closed. A winner has been selected and notified.]

Related content:

Writer Jim Crace gives writing advice and discusses why T. H. White’s archive at the Ransom Center brought tears to his eyes

Writer Jim Crace discusses his creative process in two videos

Driftwood in an archive

View Recommended Reading from Jim Crace

Book annotations document scuffle between Ernest Hemingway and Max Eastman

By Michael Gilmore

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.

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

By Abigail Cain

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.

In the galleries: Norman Mailer’s handwritten draft of “The Fight”

By Abigail Cain

The opening page of Norman Mailer's handwritten draft of "The Fight."
The opening page of Norman Mailer's handwritten draft of "The Fight."

Norman Mailer once wrote, “[Boxing] arouses two of the deepest anxieties we contain. There is not only the fear of getting hurt, which is profound in more men than will admit to it, but there is the opposite panic, equally unadmitted, of hurting others.”

Mailer used boxing to explore many of the violent debates of modern American life, debates about sex, gender, race, and even literary style. The Fight, Mailer’s book-length account of the 1974 heavyweight championship bout between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, touches on many of these subjects while capturing one of the most famous and memorable boxing matches in history. Mailer’s love of the sport shines through as he describes the precision, skill, and art of two of the greatest fighters who ever lived. Mailer’s unabashed egoism and racism are equally evident. Since its publication in 1975, the book has been both widely celebrated and deeply criticized, much like Mailer himself.

In this draft page of The Fight, Mailer offers a description of the charismatic and often outrageous boxer Muhammad Ali. Mailer writes, “Is it possible that Muhammad Ali is the only American in the 20th century one does not need to describe?… when he is looking his best (and Ali has his days) then not only is the greatest athlete who ever lived standing before you but a fellow who is in danger of being the most beautiful man.”  Though few could rival Mailer’s oversized ego, in Ali, Mailer may have met his match.

The opening page of Norman Mailer’s handwritten draft of The Fight is on display through August 4 in the Ransom Center’s current exhibition, Literature and Sport. Megan Barnard, Associate Director for Acquisitions and Administration, will lead a curator’s tour of the exhibition on July 31 at 7 p.m.

Mailer’s archive is held at the Ransom Center.

Norman Mailer's ticket to the George Foreman–Muhammad Ali championship fight in Kinshasa, Zaire, September 25, 1974.
Norman Mailer's ticket to the George Foreman–Muhammad Ali championship fight in Kinshasa, Zaire, September 25, 1974.