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In Memoriam: Barry Unsworth (1930–2012)

By Alicia Dietrich

Handwritten draft of Barry Unsworth's 1992 novel, "Sacred Hunger."
Handwritten draft of Barry Unsworth's 1992 novel, "Sacred Hunger."

British author Barry Unworth, whose archive resides at the Ransom Center, died earlier this week at the age of 81.

Unsworth, who is known for such acclaimed novels as Sacred Hunger (1992), Pascali’s Island (1980), and The Ruby in Her Navel (2006), handwrites all of his novels, and the archive contains manuscripts of all but one of the 16 novels he wrote before 2007.

In this age of computers and word processing, Unsworth’s handwritten drafts reveal much about his creative process. The above page is from a draft from his Booker Prize–winning novel, Sacred Hunger (1992). This draft fills five notebooks. The novel centers on an eighteenth-century slave ship, which Unsworth describes on this page as: “a particle in a bloodstream constantly circulating negro slaves, and a minute, discrete element in a gigantic commercial enterprise that was to change the world forever, cost forty million lives, bring to Africa misery on a scale hardly conceivable, to Europe enormous infusions of capital, to France the Industrial Revolution, to America the plantation system, the Civil War and the shape of the nation.”

Unworth visited the Ransom Center in spring 2009 to read from his novel Land of Marvels (2009). His last novel, The Quality of Mercy, was published in 2011.

Unsworth visited the Ransom Center in 2009. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
Unsworth visited the Ransom Center in 2009. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.