Where do all the books go?

When writers pass away, they leave mountains of letters, manuscripts, and other types of correspondence. What do their estates do with it all in their efforts to preserve and, whenever possible, expand the writer’s legacy?

The short answer is all over. Henry’s work can be found at UCLA, Yale, and the Harry Ransom Center. Faulker’s papers are located at the University of Mississippi, Yale, and the University of Virginia. 

But how do they even get there in the first place?

It’s a question that Rachel Donadio addressed in the New York Times.

“An archive sale is essentially a long-term investment in a writer’s reputation, an assessment of his or her place in the larger cultural landscape,” writes Donadio. How papers change hands “is the result of a particular alchemy between market forces and literary reputations.”

In many cases, someone has to buy the work from the writer’s estate for his or her client. Donadio spotlighted one such middleman, Glenn Horowitz, who brokered the sale of Norman Mailer’s and Don DeLillo’s papers to the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas, Austin.

Marcel Proust

Working directly with Vladimir Nabokov’s estate, Horowitz also brokered the $1 million sale of the writer’s archive to the New York Public Library. The archive consists of manuscripts and typescripts, correspondence, diaries for 1941 through 1977, notebooks, legal documents, portraits, and pictorial works.

Other times, an estate already has a relationship with the university in question.

“Successes often involve matchmaking and connections more than price,” writes Donadio. “Institutions shy away from bidding wars, so dealers court one at a time.”

Here are some more tidbits about where famous writers’ papers are kept.

  • A collection of Vladimir Nabokov’s papers at New York Public Library consists of manuscripts and typescripts, correspondence, diaries for 1941 through 1977, notebooks, legal documents, portraits, and pictorial works.
  • The Princeton University Library digitized the autograph manuscript and corrected galleys of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” which were donated to the lbrary in 1950 by Fitzgerald’s daughter Scottie Fitzgerald Lanahan. The Library has put the digital images online in the Princeton University Digital Library (PUDL), making the historical items easily accessible to researchers, Fitzgerald fans and the general public.
  • Flannery O’Connors’s manuscripts are housed at a variety of institutions, including Emory University, the University of Mississippi, and the University of Georgia.
  • Among the gems of literary history that are housed in the Robert D. Farber University Archives and Special Collections Department at Brandeis University are 23 original letters penned between 1913 and 1916 by Marcel Proust, the writer many consider the greatest French novelist of the twentieth century. Although the letters in the collection represent only a fraction of those that Proust wrote during this pivotal period, they are among some of the most important documents in the publication history “In Search of Lost Time.”
  • Smith Collge houses the Virginia Woolf Papers, which consists of correspondence, reading notes, drafts of essays and short stories, corrected page proofs of novels and collected essays, printed ephemera, and photographs.
  • Covering the entire span of his artistic life, the James Joyce Collection is the largest Joyce collection in the world and it’s located at…the University of Buffalo!

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