This profile is part of a series of interviews chronicling the experiences of researchers who use The New York Public Library's collections for the development of their work.
Hunter Augeri is a PhD Candidate in the Department of English at Duke University where he writes about 20th-century American art and literature.
Tell us about your research project.
My dissertation, “How to Save America: The Meaning and Practice of Hoarding in 20th Century Art & Literature,” looks at a variety of eccentric figures who convert their instinct to hoard into a mode of artistic production. The chapter I'm currently writing offers a broad survey of the cultural manifestation of hoarding and how it is tied to the lives of the Collyer brothers in their Harlem mansion and Edith Ewing Beale and daughter Edith Bouvier Beale in their East Hampton estate, Grey Gardens. I use these figures to study the concept of eccentricity and what it means to be an artist who doesn’t make art. My analysis draws on the art and writing of Andy Warhol and Henry Darger, who both made hoarding the foundation of their art production. Other chapters focus on the proliferation of storage facilities and the circulation and disposal of discarded belongings.
When did you first get the idea for your research project?
For a long time I was drawn to the banal: suburbs, parking lots, strip malls. I kept looking for people who were doing something interesting and productive with a banal subject—and then I discovered Bern Porter. Porter was a book artist, publisher, scientist, and writer whose work was composed almost entirely out of found material, mainly newspaper circulars and advertisements he culled from various sources, including the waste bin at his local post office. I study his books as archives of ephemeral printed material and how this style of preservation alters our sense of how history is recorded. As I struggled with shaping a critical lens around his work, I found I was primarily intrigued by his process of fastidiously collecting and saving anything that passed through his hands. It was at this point I decided to research the psychology and practice of hoarding, collecting, and disposing of belongings.
Photo by Hunter Augeri of an opening in Bern Porter, The Book of Do's (Hulls Cove, Maine: Dog Ear Press, 1982), [unpaginated].
What brought you to NYPL?
One of the professors on my committee had a space in the Wertheim Study last year and suggested I look into it. I moved back to Brooklyn this summer and will finish writing here in New York. The Wertheim Study has been an excellent resource for accessing books and having a quiet place to think and write. The Art and Architecture Collection has an incredible array of books that are readily available and I plan on visiting the Berg Collection this fall.
What's your favorite spot in the Library?
Despite the immense beauty of the Schwarzman building I often take a break to sit at the cafe tables outside. Variety is the spice of life and I try to move about when I’m spending a whole day at the library. The windows in the hallway that overlook 42nd Street are also a favorite of mine. There’s something soothing about seeing the bustle of people and traffic outside while standing in a quiet place.
Describe your research routine.
I have never been a person of routine, which is both good and bad. Finding the balance between researching and writing is also a real struggle. However, when I come to the Wertheim Study to work I find myself falling into deep concentration. I try to write until I hit a wall and then step outside to clear my head. By the time I return to the desk some ideas have left me, but in their place new ones often appear.
What research tools could you not live without?
Interlibrary loan and the incredible librarians who will hunt down the exact book or article you are looking for. I am eternally grateful for all the help I’ve received over the years. Trips to archives have also opened up unexpected avenues of research.
What’s the most unexpected item you encountered in your research?
I’m strangely excited by finding old receipts that were used for bookmarks. I like knowing what types of cigarettes and gum the authors I’m writing about preferred.
Who makes the best coffee in the neighborhood?
I haven’t found a regular coffee spot yet but I make frequent visits to the Nuts4Nuts cart on the southeast corner of 5th avenue and 40th street. The peanuts are always hot and delicious and I believe consistency is a real virtue.