The New York Times, November 24, 2014
Gabriel García Márquez, who died in April at 87, was a strong critic of American imperialism who was banned from entry to the United States for decades, even after “One Hundred Years of Solitude” vaulted him to international celebrity and, in 1982, the Nobel Prize in Literature.
But now García Márquez, who was born in Colombia and lived much of his adult life in Mexico City, has “gone to Texas,” as they say.
The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin will announce on Monday that it has acquired García Márquez’s archive, which contains manuscripts, notebooks, photo albums, correspondence and personal artifacts, including two Smith Corona typewriters and five Apple computers.
At the Ransom Center, one of the nation’s leading literary archives — and the only one “in the country’s borderlands with Latin America,” noted Steve Enniss, its director — García Márquez’s literary remains will be preserved alongside those of James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Jorge Luis Borges and other global figures.
The Guardian, November 24, 2014
The Harry Ransom Center has a coup. The University of Texas at Austin’s deep-pocketed modern literature archive announced today that after almost a year of negotiation, it has acquired the papers of the prizewinning Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez, who died in April aged 87. Neither the author’s family nor the Ransom Center will disclose the amount of money that changed hands in the deal, but the Center, and the dealer it worked with, New York’s Glenn Horowitz, are well known for the substantial prices they pay for the work of 20th-century writers. In May this year, the center acquired the novelist Ian McEwan’s archive for a reported $2m.
In addition to personal correspondence and photo albums, the collection includes two typewriters, five computers and an estimated 2,000 letters from correspondents such as Julio Cortázar, Milan Kundera and Graham Greene.
Stephen Enniss, the director of the Ransom Center, sounded jubilant today as he described García Márquez’s literary significance, which he considers comparable to James Joyce’s.
Port Magazine, June 2013
The rare book dealer Glenn Horowitz explains how he started off by following Kerouac and ended up flogging Nabokov.
I wasn't exactly the boy raised by wolves, but the Catskill Mountains were a long way from the literary circles of Manhattan. My family had emigrated from Eastern Europe and my grandfather, uncles and father had all been peddlers of various kinds, so I grew up with a strong sense that selling things was a noble things for a man to do. At the same time, I was a precocious kid with vague aspirations to a life of the mind, though I had no way of expressing that, even to myself. My whole experience of state-school education was uninspiring, and aged 17, my primary interests were athletics and girls. My parent wanted me to go to college, but if I thought about my future at all, I saw myself becoming a kind of Kerouac character-I'd head to New York City, do manual labour, write novels and sleep with as many girls as I could.
That was until I went to an open house at Bennington College- it was like stepping into another world, a beautiful postage stamp-sized Arcadia in the middle of Vermont. The time I spent there, studying fiction under the writer Bernard Malamud, was the most transformative period of my life. I lost that awkward sense of never quite fitting in, and I grew confident in my own judgment.
After graduation, I finally followed my adolescent dream and moved to New York to be a writer. By then, I'd churned out thousands of page of prose, but I was also sufficiently well educated to know what superior literature looked like- nd mind was definitely mediocre. To make ends meet, I was working in the rare books department of Strand Book Store and I began to feel that buying and selling books was a way that I could actually make a living out of texts. As someone who was young and driven, it was slightly quirky to embark on such a staid profession, but it appealed to the two competing instincts I had, the intellectual and the commercial. After 18 months at the Strand, I'd earned the trust of a handful of serious collectors and I decided to go it alone. With a loan from my father and the savings from my bar mitzvah, I scraped together enough money to put a down payment on my first library and, six weeks after my twenty-fourth birthday, I had my own business.
At first I was just buying and selling individual books, but when I was asked to negotiate the sale of a poet's archive to a university, I suddenly realised that these larger deals were what really excited me- I liked the process of bringing two parties to the point where their interests were perfectly aligned and the transaction could take place. The game-changer came when I sold Nabokov's literary estate to the New York Public Library for a record seven-figure sum.
Whether it's Kurt Vonnegut's archive or Elearnor Roosevelts collection, every deal is unique, and many of them take years to put together. People like to imagine that I spend several hours a day in the Union Square Cafe taking and eating, and it's true that talking is a big part of my job. Because of the relationships I've built up, I no longer go looking for good books: they find me. I'm also very lucky to be surrounded by a team of gifted younger people, who share my vision for the business and will be able to watch the seeds I've planted grow to maturity. I may eventually take a more avuncular, advisory role, but right now most of my ambitions remain unfulfilled, and I wake up every morning determined to achieve more. If you're able to articulate for yourself what you want to accomplish, there's no secret to success: it's hard work, hard work, and really hard work. And when I'm not working? I'm reading.
CNBC, February 2013
CNBC, Inside Wealth Edited by Robert Frank, June 2013
Sale Puts Price on Peek Inside the Literary Mind
By Jennifer Schlesinger
You can't buy literary success, but if you have a little more than $5 million, it may help you gain insight into the minds of two of the greatest 20th-century novelists.
That's how much it would take to buy two collection of letters currently up for sale by a prestigious New York dealer in literary artifacts. A correspondence between "On the Road" author Jack Kerouac and his college friend, is priced at $1.25 million. What amounts to a biography in letters by and to the British novelist Virginia Woolf is for sale at $4 million. Both are being offered by Glenn Horowitz Bookseller in lower Manhattan.
The Kerouac collection includes 59 letters and postcards, part of the author's correspondence with his friend Ed White, whom he met while the two were students at Columbia University. The letters span from July 1947, when Kerouac started the travels he documented in his novel, "On the Road," until two months before his death in 1969.
"Kerouac had a phobia, might be too strong of a word, but he had an antipathy to the telephone and there were a handful of people… with whom he carried on long dialogues through letters," said Glenn Horowitz, president of the firm selling the collection.
White's influence on Kerouac's erractic, impressionistic style is obvious, according to Horowitz. "It's White who Kerouac credits with having introduced the idea of sketching with words as a way of trying to somehow capture the impressions that were swirling in his consciousness. That sketching is what really evolved into the prose style that we now associate today so intimately with 'On the Road'," said Horowitz.
One key letter to White is written on the back of a page belonging to an early manuscript of "On the Road." "The most poignant and interesting letter is from the late '40s," Horowitz explained, "in which [Kerouac] talks about the onset of the composition of 'On the Road', and really what's wonderful is he's written on the back of a manuscript leaf for a very early iteration of [the novel]."
The value for this letter alone is estimated at $100,000, but Horowitz is only selling it as part of the collection.
While the Kerouac collection offers insights into the origins of his writing style, the Virginia Woolf letters offers fans a glimpse of her personality and life. Many are written to Woolf's nephew Julian Bell, who was killed at a very young age in the Spanish Civil War, fighting for the loyalists. Others are from family -- Leonard Woolf, her widower, and Vanessa Bell, her sister.
The most poignant, said Horowitz, is one written by Vita Sackville-West, Woolf's lover, describing Woolf's suicide and the days leading up to the discovery of her body. "It's really one of the most touching collections of letters I've had the privilege of handling," Horowitz said.
"She was able to express all of the dimensions of her personality. The one that is oftentimes lost when people think of Virginia Wolf is this great sense of playfulness and humor that animated the perspective that she had on the world," said Horowitz.
Besides the insight, part of what makes the Woolf collection worth millions is how it was put together.
"It was put together piece by piece, to sort of reflect the vision that the collector had of his intimate response and connection to Virginia and the intervention she had in his life over the course of building this collection," Horowitz explained.
The Atlantic Magazine, Writers, March 2012
Canon Foder: A library bets on future literary stars
By Anne Trubek
With 36 million manuscripts and a million rare books, the Harry Ransom Center, on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin, is a standout in the exclusive club of the world’s great museum-quality collections. The requisite Gutenberg Bible is on display, along with treasures rarer still: Shakespeare folios; James Joyce manuscripts; the archives of Edgar Allan Poe, Anne Sexton, George Bernard Shaw.
These days, the collection is growing. The Ransom Center is on a buying binge, but not with the long-dead titans of literature in mind. Instead, the library is pursuing the private papers of contemporary authors. This fall, the center locked down the papers of the living Nobel laureate J. M. Coetzee—spending $1.5 million on more than 160 boxes containing drafts, notebooks, and letters, among other things. It’s also scooping up material belonging to authors like Denis Johnson, Jayne Anne Phillips, Julian Barnes, and Steve Martin (yes, that one). The congratulatory letters that Johnson received after writing Tree of Smoke, or the note he wrote to his family about playing guitar—these may seem mundane now, but the Ransom Center is betting that the novelist just might become the next Hawthorne or Hemingway (whose papers it already has), or maybe the next David Foster Wallace (whose papers it recently scored).
But the library is engaged in more than just speculation. Something else happens when the scribblings of a living artist are placed alongside those of the greats. The center is out to play a role in literary-canon formation, the Ransom Center’s director, Thomas Staley, told me during my recent visit. Gerald Graff, a former president of the Modern Language Association—the principal professional organization for scholars of English and other modern languages—calls this “an interesting switch from tradition, when authors had the decency to die first and then their reputation got to be determined.” Now a library with an interest in what history decides is jumping the gun. For what it’s worth, Graff adds, the strategy is “very Texas, very competitive.”
The idea that the Ransom Center would place its institutional thumb on the scales of history traces back to 1956, when Harry Huntt Ransom, a dean at the University of Texas, called for a library both “historic and prophetic,” to conserve the past and shape the future. His first major acquisitions included manuscripts by the newly canonized modernists D. H. Lawrence, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Dylan Thomas, Ezra Pound, and Samuel Beckett.
Staley is an English professor (like the center’s founder), as well as a Joyce scholar. He’s lined the walls of his office with photos of “his” authors—writers like Norman Mailer and Don DeLillo. Constantly on the hunt for the next big name, Staley solicits recommendations from academics, book reviewers, and other authors. But he’s also interested in the reader on the street. Spotting an undergraduate reading Langston Hughes’s poetry on campus one day, Staley asked which other poets the student read, and jotted down the names. The center maintains a list of 600 authors whose careers it is “keeping watch over.” Staley is no longer secretive about his list; while we were chatting, he considered adding a name he’d just remembered (Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns).
These days, the most popular archive is that of the late David Foster Wallace. Fans trek across the country for the chance to see Wallace’s underlined paperbacks, his early drafts, his e-mails to tax experts. The staff has even received a request for a scan of Wallace’s handwriting, for use as a tattoo.
But it’s a risky game, this betting on contemporary authors. What if Denis Johnson’s hardcovers get remaindered? What if Norman Mailer does not stand the test of time? With an eye toward protecting investments, Staley does his part to promote his authors. Alice Adams, the novelist and short-story writer, was a major acquisition in 2000 and now seems to be the subject of a subtle awareness campaign. Staley admits as much, saying he works at “keeping writers like Alice Adams before the public.” His employees follow his lead. En route to the Wallace archive, one staffer pointed out to me the 27 boxes comprising the Adams collection. Later, another employee, while showing me DeLillo’s letters, offhandedly mentioned her love for Adams’s stories. “She really should be better-known,” the woman said, looking up at me hopefully.
Los Angeles Times, Entertainment, April 2012
T.C. Boyle archives go to Ransom Center at UT Austin
By Carolyn Kellogg
The Tea Fire was raging across the hills of Montecito, and T.C. Boyle was worried. He was worried about the safety of his home, as anyone near the flames would be, and that concern was amplified by the fact that the nearly century-old house was designed by no less than Frank Lloyd Wright. And then there were the papers: the highly combustible manuscripts, research, notes and bound volumes that constitute Boyle's life's work. Everything that had gone into writing two dozen books and 150 stories was stashed in Boyle's basement. If the wind shifted, it would all be lost.
"It scared the bejesus out of me," Boyle said four years later.
Although the Tea Fire claimed more than 200 homes, it never reached Boyle's. And now Boyle's archive has found a safe house of its own: at the Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The Ransom Center, the premier collector of the complete papers of 20th and 21st century novelists, paid $425,000 to add Boyle's archive to its collection.
"I guess there's a lot of stuff," Boyle says of the materials in his archive. Boyle, who teaches at USC, has the jocular manner of someone completely at ease in front of an audience. "The house seems a little lighter now; it seems to be rising up now that the weight has been removed," he jokes.
The Ransom Center had its eye on Boyle since 2003, when director Thomas F. Staley told The Times he was interested in the archive of the author of "The Tortilla Curtain" and "East Is East." In Hollywood, Boyle is best known for "The Road to Wellville," which was adapted into the film starring Matthew Broderick, John Cusack and Anthony Hopkins.
Boyle has an uncommon three-sided gift: He makes bestseller lists, publishes esteemed literary fiction, and is a consistently prolific author. In the nine years since that first spark of Ransom Center interest, he assiduously continued to add to the papers under his house. He boxed up notebooks full of novel research: on Alfred Kinsey's intimates for 2004's "The Inner Circle" and Frank Lloyd Wright's wives and lovers for "The Women" (2009). He filled folders with stories sent to magazines like the New Yorker, with notes back and forth from his editors. And of course there were the manuscripts, the drafts and redrafts and final versions of his novels. It was all ready when the Ransom Center — in the form of Glenn Horowitz, a broker who deals in authors' archives — came knocking.
"They really want the piece of paper with the scribbling on it," Boyle explains. "Since I bridge the computer era and the typewriter era, about half my stuff is old typescripts, with scribbles all over it and everything."
"Every time we get an archive in, the vast majority is still paper," says Megan Barnard, the Ransom Center's assistant director for acquisitions and administration. "People are still printing out their revised drafts and taking pen or pencil to paper and making notes."
Yet computers have made much of that revision process less visible — as Boyle puts it, revising "happens in outer space and disappears" — but the Ransom Center is undeterred. It has a number of archives that come from authors who, like Boyle, have work composed before and after the ubiquitous computer: novelists Russell Banks, Don DeLillo, Denis Johnson and even David Foster Wallace. Research libraries like the Ransom Center, which include the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino and the Library of Congress — are working jointly to develop industry standards for storing and retrieving digital manuscripts and other documents that are "born digital."
The New Yorker, April 9, 2012
By T. Coraghessan Boyle
My first short story for this magazine, back in 1993, was a piece called “Filthy with Things.” It concerns a couple so caught up in the mania of collecting and acquiring that they find their living space reduced to the odd trail wending its way through the mountains of precious stuff wedged inside their house. Finally, in desperation, they hire a professional organizer by the name of Susan Certaine, who solves the problem by hauling away everything but the standing walls and the clothes on their backs. To this day, people come up to me, their eyes shifting furtively and hands compressed in adjuration, to confess how deeply the story gnaws at them—this is true horror, and it needs no vampires or zombies to bring home its queasy truths.
I am not at all like the protagonist of that story—or that’s what I tell myself. I still have my vinyl records dating back to the sixties and still (once a month or so) go through the effort of cueing up the turntable to play them, though ninety-eight per cent of my listening time these days is devoted to digital recordings, which drift through the speakers with very little effort on my part. What else do I have? Books. My books are abundant, though, sadly, they seem de trop in a digitized world.
The real problem, the insurmountable one (short of hiring Susan Certaine), is my wife. She is the collector’s collector—or perhaps “hoarder” would be a more accurate designation. The most recent accounting, compiled by a team of distinguished archaeologists, determined that we now possess twelve examples of every article every manufactured in the history of humankind. Call this stuff precious, call it indispensable, call it clutter. In any case, it is troubling to me, as I like to think of myself as living in harmony with the natural world (and so in opposition to the culture of acquisitiveness into which we are all born—in this country, at any rate). I tell her you can’t take it with you, but amid the fierce rustling of the shopping bags and boxes she flings down on the kitchen table every hour or so, I don’t think she really hears me. I offer Tutankhamen as an example. He did manage to take it (his stuff, that is) with him, and look what happened to him. All of it has been dug up and stolen, and even now his mummified corpse is being paraded around the world.
Which is by way of saying that I myself am now forty-three boxes lighter, as I have just placed my archive with the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin. My feelings? I feel disburdened, I feel good, I feel like Samson awakening to the fact that the shackles have fallen from him, but the relief is necessarily tempered by a pang of nostalgia.
Since I began writing stories and novels in the early nineteen-seventies, I have kept every scrawled-over draft, every letter from friends and readers and my fellow writers, every rejection slip and review, as well as all the correspondence with my editors, agents and publishers around the world—and now I no longer have them. No matter that I never looked at any of them, ever, and that they remained thrust deep in their manila folders in the depths of filing cabinets and yellowing boxes imprinted with the logos of appliances long since defunct—they were there and they gave me weight. Of course, there is the consideration that all this paper I’ve been dragging around down through the years could have met a very different fate, masticated by rats and bugs, rotted, engulfed by mold, earthquakes, mudslides, or the flames of the wildfires that annually threaten this very old wood-frame house on the California coast where I am now sitting at the keyboard. At least the archive is safe and available to whoever may be interested in looking at it, now and in the future. And, as I say, the house is ever so slightly less crammed at this juncture—and more buoyant, too, like a land mass rising in relief once the glaciers have melted.
Serendipitously, it happened that the last stop on last month’s book tour in support of the paperback of “When the Killing’s Done” was Austin, and so I was able to visit the Ransom Center and see some of what is preserved there. What impressed me most, aside from the manuscripts themselves, was the freezer. On one of the many levels, with their mechanized shelves and climate-controlled atmosphere, there sits a deepfreeze the size of a small house. All suspicious incoming archives are deposited here and subjected to an alternating series of quick freezes (at minus twenty degrees centigrade) and gradual thawings, so as to protect against mold, insects, and any other living organisms that may have inhabited the late archivist’s living quarters. One of the book conservators even goes by the appellation of “The Bug Lady,” reflecting her training in entomology. I think of all that precious, friable, impermanent, and biodegradable paper and what certain species like the booklouse, the silverfish, and the cockroach might want to do with it, not to mention the lower forms of life. (I was praised by the staff, incidentally, for having delivered a particularly clean archive, sans insects, rodent feces, or the various substances that typically stain manuscripts—coffee, marinara sauce, and blood being the most likely culprits.)
The highlight of the day was when Megan Barnard, Assistant Director of Acquisitions and Administration, showed me samples of archives from three of my enduring heroes: Evelyn Waugh, Thomas Pynchon, and Jorge Luis Borges. The Waugh sample was of illustrated adventure stories the great satirist had written as a young boy, the handwriting overlarge and awkward, the drawings carefully colored and tending toward what an art historian might charitably call the naïf. The Pynchon included handwritten notes and an outline and draft fragments of an unfinished musical called “Minstrel Island,” co-written with his friend John Kirkpatrick Sale when both were students at Cornell in 1958. Most impressive, perhaps, was the Borges. One of the articles displayed for me was a handwritten manuscript of an essay identifying the books he would take with him to a desert island (the Encyclopedia Britannica was one of them, but then that’s cheating, isn’t it?). The essay was indited in a minute and impeccable hand, the script so small you would have needed a jeweller’s loupe to get comfortable with it.
What else? Well, that was all I had time for, at least on this visit. But simply to stroll through the cavernous rooms, gazing on all these works stored in their infinite ranks of identical boxes, was a sort of Borgesian experience, “The Library of Babel” come to life in this ephemeral world we call the real and actual. Of course, all of it is ephemeral, every last tick and jot of it, every slip of paper and hardbound book (Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!), and so are we and our spirits and the possessions that accumulate around us. And yet, at least for now, I can rest easy in knowing that my modest contribution to all this resides behind solid walls, in a climate-controlled atmosphere where insects are iced before they emerge and the depredations of time are kept rigorously at bay.
The New York Times, Arts, Music, December 2011
Bound For Local Glory at Last
By Patricia Cohen
TULSA, Okla. — Oklahoma has always had a troubled relationship with her native son Woody Guthrie. The communist sympathies of America’s balladeer infuriated local detractors. In 1999 a wealthy donor’s objections forced the Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City to cancel a planned exhibition on Guthrie organized by the Smithsonian Institution. It wasn’t until 2006, nearly four decades after his death, that the Oklahoma Hall of Fame got around to adding him to its ranks.
But as places from California to the New York island get ready to celebrate the centennial of Guthrie’s birth, in 2012, Oklahoma is finally ready to welcome him home. The George Kaiser Family Foundation in Tulsa plans to announce this week that it is buying the Guthrie archives from his children and building an exhibition and study center to honor his legacy.
“Oklahoma was like his mother,” said his daughter Nora Guthrie, throwing back her tangle of gray curls as she reached out in an embrace. “Now he’s back in his mother’s arms.”
The archive includes the astonishing creative output of Guthrie during his 55 years. There are scores of notebooks and diaries written in his precise handwriting and illustrated with cartoons, watercolors, stickers and clippings; hundreds of letters; 581 artworks; a half-dozen scrapbooks; unpublished short stories, novels and essays; as well as the lyrics to the 3,000 or more songs he scribbled on scraps of paper, gift wrap, napkins, paper bags and place mats. Much of the material has rarely or never been seen in public, including the lyrics to most of the songs. Guthrie could not write musical notation, so the melodies have been lost.
The foundation, which paid $3 million for the archives, is planning a kickoff celebration on March 10, with a conference in conjunction with the University of Tulsa and a concert sponsored by the Grammy Museum featuring his son Arlo Guthrie and other musicians. Although the collection won’t be transferred until 2013, preparations for its arrival are already in motion. Construction workers are clearing out piles of red brick and wire mesh from the loading dock in the northeast end of the old Tulsa Paper Company building, in the Brady District of the city, where the planned Guthrie Center is taking shape. The center is part of an ambitious plan to revitalize the downtown arts community.
Now that the back walls are punched out, workers trucking wheelbarrows of concrete can look across the tracks to the tower built by BOK Financial, which George Kaiser, whose foundation bears his name, presides over as chairman. Forbes magazine ranks Mr. Kaiser as the richest man in Oklahoma and No. 31 on its Forbes 400 list.
Ken Levit, the foundation’s executive director, said he thought of doing something for Guthrie after the Hall of Fame induction. Nowhere in Tulsa, he said, is there even a plaque paying homage to this folk legend, who composed “This Land Is Your Land”; performed with Pete Seeger and Lead Belly; wrote the fictionalized autobiography “Bound for Glory”; and sang at countless strikes and migrant labor protests in the 1930s and ’40s. Mr. Levit began a more than three-year campaign to win the consent of Ms. Guthrie, who had taken custody of the boxes that her mother, Marjorie Guthrie, had stowed away in the basement of her home in Howard Beach, Queens.
Ms. Guthrie, who as one of Guthrie’s youngest children, didn’t really know her father until Huntington’s disease began to rob him of his sanity, movement and speech many years before his death, in 1967, said she only rediscovered the kind of man he once was when she started to page through the boxes about 15 years ago.
“I fell in love through this material with my father,” Ms. Guthrie, 61, a former dancer, said from her office in Mount Kisco, N.Y.
Her older brothers Arlo and Joady were happy to have her take custody of the papers. Of Arlo, she said, “He was filled up with being Woody Guthrie’s son, so he was glad the responsibility moved to me.”
She said the information contained in the archives can clear up misconceptions about her father that she has frequently heard at scholarly conferences and read in articles, including that he didn’t write love songs or sexually provocative lyrics. She has also opened up his notebooks to contemporary musicians like Billy Bragg and Wilco, Jackson Browne, Rob Wasserman, Lou Reed and Tom Morello so that they could compose music to her father’s words.
One of those artists, Jonatha Brooke, is starting off the Guthrie Foundation and Grammy Museum’s yearlong centennial celebrations on Jan. 18 at Lincoln Center with a concert of new songs she wrote for the lyrics.
Woody Guthrie’s music has also had added play time this year as Arlo Guthrie, Mr. Seeger, and other musicians have sung his protest songs at Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in New York and elsewhere.
While this poor folks’ hero and the richest man in Oklahoma might not seem to have much in common, Mr. Kaiser’s foundation, with its $4 billion endowment, is dedicated to helping Tulsa’s most disadvantaged. “I cried for an hour after meeting George Kaiser,” Ms. Guthrie said. “This puts together what I’ve always dreamed of.”
Brian Hosmer, a history professor at the University of Tulsa who is organizing the March conference — ironically titled “Different Shades of Red” — said Guthrie’s legacy is contested in some quarters.
“There is no doubt there will be some voices in opposition to the way Guthrie is being emphasized — Oklahoma is about the reddest state you can have,” Mr. Hosmer explained, referring to its conservatism. “And when Woody Guthrie was a boy, Oklahoma was also the reddest state because we had more socialists elected to public office than any other.”
Guthrie always said he was influenced by the songs he had heard his mother sing in his hometown, Okemah, about an hour’s drive from Tulsa, with a population of 3,000. His radicalism offended local officials, who scorned Guthrie until an Okemah resident, Sharon Jones, decided to do something about it in the late 1990s. One of her cousins, an avid Guthrie fan, came to visit and was shocked there wasn’t a single mention of her idol. So Ms. Jones, who died in 2009, created the Woody Guthrie Coalition, which organized an annual folk festival, called WoodyFest, around his birthday on July 14, as well as a statue, a mural and a memorial. Sensitive to the area’s Baptist beliefs (including Ms. Jones’s), no alcohol was permitted at the celebration until this year.
Dee Jones, Sharon’s husband, explained that Guthrie “was kind of taboo because some influential people in this town thought Woody Guthrie had communist leanings.” But once the community realized that the 3,000 or so attendees brought in business, everyone got behind it, Mr. Jones said.
A couple of blocks from the memorial statue, visitors can run a finger along the fading letters “W-O-O-D-Y” on a fragment of Main Street’s original sidewalk, where the 16-year-old Guthrie signed his name in wet cement in 1928.
Mary Jo Guthrie Edgmon, Woody’s 90-year-old sister, always hosts a pancake breakfast during the four-day music festival. A white-haired, elfin woman with a persistent smile and a sharp wit, Ms. Edgmon remembered how her brother was always making music.
“You’d sit down at the dinner table, and there’d be glasses of water, and he’d pick up a fork and play the glasses all around the table,” she said. “If it made music, he played it.”
Reciting snatches of Guthrie’s poetry and songs, Ms. Edgmon said her brother never cared what people thought of him and did not necessarily hold a particular affection for his birthplace. “He didn’t get attached to anything,” she said. “Everywhere was his home.”
Still, after so many years of Oklahomans’ snubbing her brother’s memory, she said the whole family was thrilled he was being honored: “What we were all shooting for,” she said, “was acknowledgment.”
American Theatre Magazine, December 2011
It could be the scenariou for a Eugene O'Neill play, and in a sense it is -- but one that O'Neill never wrote.
Scene: Screenwriter Philip Yordan's 50-foot-long library, where bookcases, filing cabinets and boxes spill remnants of his life. His widow, Faith Yordan, plows through the morass. She takes an aged envelope from a file drawer and removes a sheaf of brittle pages. Excited, she makes a phone call.
Faith: Paul, I've found a script called Exorcism by Eugene O'Neill. A note says "from Agnes and Mac." Could it be important?
Thus began the discovery of O'Neill's "lost" one-act play Exorcism, all copies of which he had reportedly destroyed. O'Neill had burned manuscripts before, but not those good enough to be produced. Exorcism had been staged: On March 26, 1920, the Provincetown Players opened a two-week run of the play at the Provincetown Playhouse on MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village.
So why did O'Neill try to destory this play? It got mixed reviews, but so had others. Exorcism was different: a stark dramatization of O'Neill's attempted suicide and reported emotional rebirth in 1912. Some say it revealed too much about his family, especially since his father was dying at the time. More likely, it revealed too much of O'Neill, even for this most autobiographical of playwrights.
After Faith Yordan's discovery in February 2011, TV executive and UCLA professor Paul Nagle contacted Diane Schinnerer, longtime officer of the Eugene O'Neill Society and Eugene O'Neill Foundation, as well as archivist of the foundation's library. "She asked me two questions," Nagle recalls. "Did it have a character name Jimmy? Was it about a suicide?" Both answers were yes.
Nagle approached representatives from Glenn Horowitz Bookseller, who recognized O'Neill's handwriting and knew that "Agnes and Mac" were O'Neill's discarded second wife Agnes Boulton and her then spouse, Morris (Mac) Kaufman. Boulton biographer W.D. King says O'Neill probably left Exorcism behind in his rush to be with Carlotta Monterey, the woman who would eventually become his third wife. Horowitz then presented the 23-page document to Louise Bernard, curator at Yale University's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Yale acquired the manuscript in June, and the New Yorker magazine published it in the Oct. 17 issue. Next year Yale University press will publish Exorcism along with a facsimile of the manuscript with O'Neill's handwritten revisions.
O'Neill said of the play, "The sooner all memory of it dies the better pleased I'll be." Maura O'Neill Jones, daughter of O'Neill's son Shane--a suicide--disagrees. "This will give up-and-coming playwrights a look into the growth of a genius," she says. "It was a little hard to read because of all the suicides in the family, but also uplifting because he worked it out." -- Jo Morello