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New York Public Library Acquires Papers of E. Annie Proulx

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Correspondence, Early Book Drafts, Notebooks, Sketches for The Shipping News, Brokeback Mountain and Other Works Now Available to Researchers in The Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature

 

November 2, 2009, New York City---The New York Public Library has acquired a vast and rich collection of research notes, book drafts, and other materials of E. Annie Proulx that help illuminate the creative process of one of America’s foremost contemporary authors. The papers, which will be housed in the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, include thousands of pages of correspondence, corrected typescripts, travel journals, photographs and watercolors relating to The Shipping News and other works. These materials and artifacts show the creation of her characters and the observations culminating in remarkable descriptions of landscapes such as the Wyoming mountains and the Newfoundland scrubland. The acquisition of the collection was announced by Library President Paul LeClerc at its annual Library Lions fundraising dinner at which Ms. Proulx was an honoree.

“This archive documents in fine detail Proulx's creative journeys that culminate in her finely wrought short stories and novels,” said Library President Paul LeClerc. “It is fascinating to watch plots, characters and haunting landscapes begin as jottings and sketches in her notebooks, and take on greater depth with research notes, photographs and watercolors, culminating in numerous drafts, often heavily revised in her own hand. The hard beauty and fierce intelligence of her works will draw readers, writers, and students of literature for many years to come.”

The brilliantly descriptive writing that has captivated her readership is shown in its beginnings, as scribbled notes about the people and places she encounters on her travels and in everyday life. One notebook page, at the top of which is scribbled “Xmas Party Faces,” bears the following description, which is crossed out:

“An old man, 80s, hair cropped to silver stubble, eyes --‘curved eyes squinted into lunettes’-- silvery too, the grey shine of beaded water drops catching the light, the long shallow nose, a mustache like 2 handfuls of pine needles, the great toothless mouth opening into the skull, the pale tongue, hard gums, teeth gone chews on the bone under the gums. . .”

The collection spans much of Proulx’s life, from her university days through her journalism career and to the present. It includes 4,200 pages of short stories, essays, poems and screenplays; 145 pages of preparatory notes and research and three original notebooks with holograph draft ideas; more than 1,060 pages of holograph diary; more than 10,200 pages of typescript, much of it with holograph revisions and corrections, 2,100 galley proofs, and 1,855 pages of other related materials. Correspondence, including email totals more than 4,500 pages.

“I am, of course, very pleased that my notes, manuscript, sketches, letters and photographs have gone to the Berg Collection of The New York Public Library,” said Ms. Proulx. “What writer would not be honored to be in the company of Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Thoreau, Saul Bellow, Nabokov, Jack Kerouac, Virginia Woolfe, Marianne Moore, Paul Auster and W. H. Auden? To me there is an odd sense of balance that material dealing with some of the most rural landscapes in North America will reside in our major city. Aside from the pages directly related to my writing, the letters, emails, financial reports to and from agents, publishers, editors and translators may be useful to future historians and scholars examining this period in American publishing and literature. We are currently undergoing major changes in the way we regard intellectual property and literary work; some of anxieties of that metamorphosis are reflected in my archive.”

The collection includes an early notebook (1987-89) of draft ideas for Proulx’s first novel, Postcards, which won a Pen-Faulkner Award for Fiction. Her most famous novel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Shipping News, is represented by 3,662 pages of typescript, many with holograph revision and correction, along with screenplay adaptation pages and correspondence. A 1993 typescript bears heavy holograph revisions in purple ink. Early drafts (1994) of the novel Accordion Crimes total about 1,000 pages.

A notebook containing original manuscript ideas for Proulx’s short story “Brokeback Mountain” is included in the collection, along with 21 typescripts under a variety of working titles including “Bulldust Mountain,” “Whiskey Mountain,” and “Swill-Swallow Mountain.” Three corrected typescript drafts of Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana’s screenplay adaption of the story are included, along with legal documentation and clippings.

Other noteworthy items include photographs of the Great Northern Peninsula in Newfoundland (setting for The Shipping News) and of Wyoming; nine sketchbooks containing more than 60 original drawings revealing a close examination of habitats and environments in which Proulx has set her work; a notebook with drafts and notes for “The Half Skinned Deer” and other writings from Wyoming Stories III.

“I’m delighted and humbled to have the Annie Proulx papers in the Berg Collection,” said Isaac Gewirtz, curator of the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature. “Her work is infused with a sense of fateful inevitability and the mystery of human character, which she often reveals in seductive and brutal encounters with nature. This fateful sense also infuses her lapidary, unsentimental descriptions both of nature and of her characters’ interior worlds, as if every word were foreordained, perfectly chosen and placed.”

About E. Annie Proulx
E. Annie Proulx began writing when she was in her 50s and has won many literary awards, including the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for Close Range: Wyoming Stories, the 1993 National Book Award for Fiction and the 1993 Irish Times International Fiction Prize, both for The Shipping News, and the 1993 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for Postcards. Born in Norwich, Connecticut, she currently divides her life and work between Wyoming and New Mexico; her interests include history, archaeology, geology, and literature. Her story “Brokeback Mountain,” which originally appeared in The New Yorker, was made into an Academy Award–winning film. Ms. Proulx is currently working on a memoir about conservation efforts at Bird Cloud, the Wyoming home she shares with her four children.

About The Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature
The Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature was established at The New York Public Library on October 11, 1940. A gift of Albert Berg (1872-1950) in memory of his brother Henry (1858-1938), eminent physicians at Mt. Sinai Hospital, it comprised 3,500 volumes of rare editions of English and American literature, as well as an endowment for the collection's housing and development. Subsequent large purchases by Albert Berg and curatorial purchases made possible by his bequest, as well as the generous gifts of generations of donors, have increased the collection's size to 30,000 rare books and 2,000 linear feet of literary manuscripts and archives, including journals, diaries, correspondence, and photographs, representing the work and lives of more than 400 authors. Printed books date from William Caxton's 1480 edition of the Chronicles of England to the present day, and the manuscripts date from the early 17th century, though the most extensive manuscript holdings date from the period 1820-1980. The many notable authors whose manuscripts and correspondence are housed in the Berg include Charles Dickens, Henry James, Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf, W. B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, and Saul Bellow. The Berg is also home to the archives of Vladimir Nabokov, Jack Kerouac, Terry Southern, Kenneth Koch, and Paul Auster, among other important writers and poets.

Exhibitions featuring the Berg Collection's holdings are mounted at the Library, in the D. Samuel and Jeane H. Gottesman Exhibition Hall and in the Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III Gallery, and presentations of selected materials are regularly offered to undergraduate and graduate classes in English and American literature. Each year, scholars from across the country and around the world conduct research at the Berg, publishing scores of articles and books based on its resources.

About The New York Public Library
The New York Public Library was created in 1895 with the consolidation of the private libraries of John Jacob Astor and James Lenox with the Samuel Jones Tilden Trust. The Library provides free and open access to its physical and electronic collections and information, as well as to its services. Its renowned research collections are located in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street; The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center; the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem; and the Science, Industry and Business Library at 34th Street and Madison Avenue. Eighty-seven branch libraries provide access to circulating collections and a wide range of other services in neighborhoods throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island. Research and circulating collections combined total more than 50 million items. In addition, each year the Library presents thousands of exhibitions and public programs, which include classes in technology, literacy, and English for speakers of other languages. All in all The New York Public Library serves more than 17 million patrons who come through its doors annually and millions more around the globe who use its resources at www.nypl.org.

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