“Dear Miss Crawford,” writes D. H. Lawrence in a letter dated December 23, 1909, “I hope my verses won’t offend you. I know they are poor enough. But do you like my little card?” The “little card,” sent to Grace Crawford and today part of the D. H. Lawrence collection at the Ransom Center, is a small, handmade Christmas greeting card, its front and back covers decorated with watercolors by Lawrence. On the front, four bees surround a stock of delicately drooping bluebells; one bee has attached itself to a flower. On the back, Lawrence has finely rendered a mayfly, with elegantly arranged wings and legs. [Read more…] about Season’s greetings in the Ransom Center’s collections
Here’s the plot of a story a writer told me he had joked about writing with Guy Davenport: For about two days in the 1970s, Queen Elizabeth, the Dalai Lama, and Thomas Merton were within twelve miles of one another in central Kentucky, about a mile from Lincoln’s birthplace. Merton lived at the Abbey of Gethsemani, the Dalai Lama was visiting him, and Queen Elizabeth was staying on a nearby farm [Read more…] about Dear Guy: Letters in the Guy Davenport collection
The millions of materials in the Ransom Center are as diverse as they are interesting. But everything inside is united by one common focus, the humanities—the exploration of what it means to be human. The artists, writers, poets, musicians, filmmakers, and everyone else whose belongings and legacies live in the archives all captured different aspects of the human experience. They explored the essences of art, of beauty, of tragedy, and perhaps most importantly (especially if you trust John Lennon) of love. [Read more…] about Love letters from the archive
When the papers of a renowned author like Gabriel García Márquez arrive at the Ransom Center, there’s always a sense of excitement among staff, who take great pride in being able to preserve and make accessible materials that are unavailable anywhere else and that offer students and scholars entirely new insights into the author’s life and work.
The papers of American author James Purdy (1914–2009) at the Ransom Center include a missive written to Purdy in the spring of 1971 by the actress Margaret Hamilton (1902–1985). Hamilton is, of course, best known for her role as the Wicked Witch of the West in the 1939 film version of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz.
The communication fills three pages of a whimsical Rosalind Welcher greeting card and continues onto both sides of a sheet of the actress’s personalized note stationery. From internal evidence in Hamilton’s letter, as well as from an earlier one in the collection from playwright Neal Du Brock to Purdy, it’s evident she had starred in Du Brock’s dramatization of Purdy’s novel The Nephew. The production was presented by the Studio Arena Theatre in Buffalo, New York in early 1971.
Du Brock’s adaptation wasn’t particularly well received and closed with considerable gloom among the play’s company. Purdy evidently wrote a consoling note to Du Brock, which led Du Brock to suggest that Miss Hamilton, who had clearly felt stung by the reviews, might be cheered by a positive word from the original author.
Purdy’s ensuing note to Hamilton seemingly helped lift the actress’s spirits, and she responded in her letter of April 23, 1971, “how very dear of you to write me…and perk up such a dismal Easter.” She went on to say she was then in Boston at her alma mater, Wheelock College, recovering from the flu and looking forward, upon her recovery, to appearing in a play with the school’s drama department.
After recounting the hectic events surrounding the production of The Nephew and its treatment in the press, the scarcely wicked witch continued with the observation that “it is amazing how vulnerable we all are—to negative criticism—we remember each phrase—do we remember the kind or approving phrases? No! It really boils down to one man’s opinion. And we do ask for it!” Hamilton closed with an invitation to Purdy to “come & have tea or a drink… sometime this summer if you are in New York.”
The James Purdy papers are currently being processed and will be available to scholars once cataloging is complete.
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The Ransom Center recently acquired a collection of letters and photographs relating to novelist and essayist Elizabeth Hardwick (1916–2007), co-founder of The New York Review of Books and one of the most brilliant literary critics of the late-twentieth century. The newly acquired material complements Elizabeth Hardwick’s archive, which she donated to the Ransom Center in 1991.
This new material was acquired from Jon R. Jewett, a personal friend of Hardwick—or “Lizzie,” as her closest friends called her. They met in Castine, Maine, in the early 1980s, where Hardwick had a summer residence that she once shared with her former husband, the poet Robert Lowell.
The collection includes more than 20 handwritten letters from Hardwick to Jewett spanning their three decades of friendship. The letters showcase Hardwick’s sharp wit and are filled with details of her daily activities, reflections on current events, and kind words of advice for her friend. In a letter dated January 21, 1991, she writes of the Gulf War, “The situation is really bizarre indeed, no jobs and a war that is not over in a week, as expected. I can’t tear myself away from the TV, but I suppose the worst thing will be that it is all to become repetition, nothing new happening and so the great happening, the war itself, just becomes another little repetitive show.”
On April 10, 1994, in a letter peppered with typos, she offers valuable advice about editing and proofreading but self-reflexively notes, “I can’t proofread my own work. It’s embarrassing how many mistakes there are in something I have read more than a dozen times.” She concludes, “I am aware of all the mistakes in this letter, but it is a rush and even the typing room is such a mess I can hardly see the page.”
The correspondence in the collection is supplemented with a number of photographs and candid snapshots—including one of a frail but smiling Lizzie taken just days before her death in 2007.
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