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Ransom Center acquires archive of poet Billy Collins

By Jennifer Tisdale

 

The Harry Ransom Center has acquired the archive of American poet Billy Collins. The materials span Collins’ personal and professional life from the 1950s to the present and documents in detail his creative development.

 

Collins, born in 1941, is known as a poet for the people, with a witty, conversational style that welcomes readers and illuminates the profound details of everyday life. He has described the beginning of his poems as “a kind of welcome mat … inviting the reader inside.” This accessible style and public presence have garnered a wide following, and from 2001 to 2003 he served as Poet Laureate of the United States.

 

“Collins is one of a very few poets whose poems are widely read,” said Harry Ransom Center Director Stephen Enniss, “and it is a great pleasure to extend the Center’s holdings in this way, with the archive of a poet beloved by readers everywhere.”

 

Within the archive are dozens of notebooks, which include Collins’ observations, notes, doodles, clippings, and extensive drafts of poems, both published and unpublished. It also includes desk diaries or datebooks that document his life as a teacher, poet and public figure. The earliest materials in the archive include childhood compositions and early family photographs. Also documented is Collins’ career as a teacher and his later emergence as a poet in the late 1970s.  Audio and video recordings and drafts of speeches and talks document a full public life as one of the country’s most popular poets. The archive includes extensive correspondence, both personal and professional.

 

“I am deeply honored and not a little intimidated to have my papers join the literary trails of so many illustrious writers housed at the Harry Ransom Center, several of whom I count among my literary heroes,” said Collins.

 

Collins will be speaking at Austin’s Paramount Theatre on Thursday, Jan. 23, at 8 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online or by phone at 512-474-1221.


Related content:

Notebooks illuminate creative process behind Billy Collins’s poem “The Names”

 

Image: Undated photo of Billy Collins. Unknown photographer.

Ransom Center acquires 21 J. D. Salinger letters

By Jennifer Tisdale

The Ransom Center has acquired 21 previously unrecorded and unpublished letters by author J. D. Salinger. The letters are accessible as part of the Ransom Center’s existing Salinger collection, which includes published and unpublished manuscripts, galleys, page proofs, and correspondence.

 

Most of the newly acquired letters are written by Salinger to Ruth Smith Maier, a classmate and friend he met at Ursinus College. Salinger attended Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, in the fall of 1938, but he quit midterm and returned to New York City. He and Maier maintained a 40-year correspondence in which Salinger commented on a wide range of topics including his literary ambitions, his writing, and his family life. A number of letters offer insight into his evolving attitude toward public exposure and cast light on his decision to withhold new work from public view.

 

In the earliest letter, the 22-year-old Salinger expresses confidence in his literary gifts: “Oh, but I’m good,” he writes Maier. “It will take time to convince the public, but [it] shall be done.” In later letters Salinger reminisces about his brief time at Ursinus College (“one of the last peaceful or simple or oddly comforting times of my life”) and comments on his second marriage and early fatherhood. Five letters from 1977 and 1978 are written to Ruth Maier’s son, Christopher. In one he offers an explanation for his decision to withhold his writing from the public, explaining “publication tends, for me, at least, to put all work still in progress in dire jeopardy . . . I distrust the finality of publication.”

 

The acquisition also includes copies of Ruth Smith Maier’s letters to Salinger and a draft of the first letter Christopher Maier sent the author.

 

Ransom Center Director Stephen Enniss notes the correspondence will be of particular interest to those who wish to understand Salinger’s withdrawal from public life. He adds, “It also humanizes the author, showing him confronting a range of life-changing events from marriage to fatherhood and his own aging.”

 

The Ransom Center’s Salinger collection was established in 1968 and has been augmented with subsequent additions over many years. The Ransom Center is one of a handful of institutions that hold original Salinger manuscripts, including Princeton University, Harvard University, the New York Public Library, the Library of Congress, and the Morgan Library.

NEH grants Ransom Center $500,000 to establish exhibition endowment

By Jennifer Tisdale

 

The Ransom Center has been awarded a $500,000 challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to establish an endowment that will sustain the institution’s exhibition program.

The grant will support a range of activities including facilitating long-range planning, creating teacher training workshops related to future exhibitions, fostering collaboration with other institutions, and supporting print and online publications related to the Center’s exhibitions.

The Ransom Center has four years to match NEH’s $500,000 challenge grant with $1.5 million in private contributions to create a dedicated $2 million exhibition endowment.

“This NEH award is validation of the strong work the Ransom Center does in interpreting its collections for wide and diverse audiences,” said Ransom Center Director Stephen Enniss. “It will enable us to build on that past success and sustain this vital program for years to come.”

 Image: Tour of Culture Unbound: Collecting in the Twenty-First Century. Courtesy TxDOT/Stan A. Williams.

University appoints new director of the Ransom Center

By Jennifer Tisdale

Photo of Stephen Enniss by Julie Ainsworth/Folger Shakespeare Library.
Photo of Stephen Enniss by Julie Ainsworth/Folger Shakespeare Library.

The University of Texas at Austin has appointed head librarian of the Folger Shakespeare Library Stephen Enniss as the new director of the Ransom Center.

Enniss will take over the duties of current Director Thomas F. Staley, who will retire August 31. Staley, who has been responsible for scores of notable acquisitions and the Center’s enormous growth during his 25-year tenure, had announced plans to retire in 2011, but later agreed to postpone his retirement date. Staley, who is also the Harry Huntt Ransom Chair in Liberal Arts, will remain on faculty and plans to teach in the College of Liberal Arts. Enniss will start at the Ransom Center on August 1.

Enniss will be the seventh director in the Ransom Center’s 56-year history.