Norman Mailer materials chronicle Apollo 11's trip to the moon 40 years ago


Astronaut on the moon with American flag. From NASA photo no. AS11-40-5875

Astronaut on the moon with American flag. From NASA photo no. AS11-40-5875

From the Vietnam War to capital punishment, Norman Mailer engaged the important intellectual and social issues of his time. So it should come as no surprise that Mailer chronicled America’s space program and the 1969 journey of Apollo 11 in a three-part article for LIFE Magazine. Portions of the piece ultimately became Mailer’s book “Of a Fire on the Moon” (Little, Brown, 1970).

As Mailer stated in a letter to Neil Armstrong on February 26, 1970, “I’ve worked as assiduously as any writer I know to portray the space program in its largest not its smallest dimension.” In “Of a Fire on the Moon,” Mailer searches for the moral and philosophical meaning of landing on the moon.

View Mailer’s handwritten manuscripts, research materials, NASA photographs, and notes concerning “Of a Fire on the Moon,” all from Mailer’s archive at the Ransom Center. The collection, which includes materials associated with all of Mailer’s literary projects, whether completed or not, contains more than 1,000 boxes of materials and is available to researchers, students, and the public.

Ransom Center to Focus on Works of Edgar Allan Poe as Part of The Big Read

Collectible cigarette card depicting Edgar Allan Poe, undated.

The Harry Ransom Center has received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to host The Big Read in Austin, focusing on Edgar Allan Poe’s stories and poems.

Beginning Sept. 8, the Ransom Center opens the exhibition “From Out That Shadow: The Life and Legacy of Edgar Allan Poe,” commemorating the bicentennial of the birth of Poe, the great American poet, critic and inventor of the detective story.

The Ransom Center’s sponsored Big Read events include a performance hosted by Isaiah Sheffer of “Selected Shorts,” heard on public radio stations across America, a Poe film series featuring “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1928), “The Raven” (1963), “The Pit and Pendulum” (1961), and a performance of “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

Frida Kahlo biographer to speak at the Ransom Center

Fritz Henle. Frida Kahlo at Xochimilco, Mexico. 1937. © Fritz Henle Estate.

Fritz Henle. Frida Kahlo at Xochimilco, Mexico. 1937. © Fritz Henle Estate.

For the 2009 Amon Carter Lecture, Hayden Herrera, art historian and biographer of Frida Kahlo, presents “Frida Kahlo: Her Art and Life” at 7 p.m., Thursday, June 18 at the Harry Ransom Center.

Herrera’s talk interweaves Frida Kahlo’s art and life, focusing on her childhood, the accident that turned her to painting, her tumultuous marriage to the muralist Diego Rivera, Rivera’s influence and other sources of inspiration for Kahlo’s art, Kahlo’s childlessness, her frequent surgeries and her passionate love for her native Mexico.

Seating is free, but limited. This program will be webcast live.

Herrera is a New York-based art historian and critic whose first book, “Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo,” was published in 1983 and in 2002 became the basis for a major motion picture. Her second full-length biography, “Arshile Gorky: His Life and Work,” published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 2003, was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize. She has also written artist’s biographies, including “Mary Frank” (1990), “Matisse: A Portrait” (1993) and “Joan Snyder” (2005). Herrera has curated a number of exhibitions, including a Frida Kahlo show that opened at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art in 1978 and traveled for a year in the United States. More recently she co-curated the Frida Kahlo centennial exhibition that opened at the Walker Art Center in 2007 and traveled to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Currently she is working on a biography of the sculptor Isamu Noguchi.

Herrera’s talk is in conjunction with the homecoming of one of the Ransom Center’s most famous and frequently borrowed art works, Frida Kahlo’s “Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird” (1940). The portrait is on display at the Ransom Center through January 3, 2010.

Web Exhibition Explores Work of Depression-Era Writer Sanora Babb

sanora-babbThe Harry Ransom Center has introduced the Web exhibition “Sanora Babb: Stories From the American High Plains,” which highlights the work of American novelist Sanora Babb (1907-2005). Babb drew on the natural beauty of the American High Plains and the difficult conditions of her childhood there to give voice to a people who left little written record of their own lives and who have received scant representation in history.

The exhibition highlights Babb’s accomplishments as a fiction writer and illustrates with historical photographs the plight of Depression-era Americans. Many of the photographs were taken by Babb’s sister, Dorothy.

Sanora Babb’s first novel, “Whose Names Are Unknown,” traces the lives of High Plains families uprooted from their dry land farms and forced to seek work as seasonal harvesters. Random House accepted Babb’s novel for publication in 1939, then broke the contract when John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” appeared, contending that buyers would not welcome two novels treating the same subject. “Whose Names Are Unknown” was eventually published by University of Oklahoma Press in 2004 to much acclaim, including a Los Angeles Times review claiming that Babb’s Dust Bowl novel rivaled Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.”

Get Your Sugar and Shakespeare Fix

shakespeare_cake_1 shakespearesonnetpageshelflife

In a special Poetry on the Plaza event in honor of National Poetry Month, the Harry Ransom Center presents a marathon reading of “Shake-speares Sonnets” (1609) at noon on Wednesday, April 22. “Shakes-peares Sonnets” turns 400 this year, and to celebrate, Shakespeare scholars, poets, and others will read from “Shake-speares Sonnets” and “The Lovers Complaint.” Starting at noon, all 154 of Shakespeare’s sonnets and the poem “The Lovers Complaint” will be read on the Ransom Center plaza. Readers include Dean Young, the William S. Livingston Endowed Chair in Poetry; James Loehlin, director of the Shakespeare at Winedale program; Franchelle Dorn, the Virginia L. Murchison Regents Professor in Fine Arts; and Thomas Cable, the Jane Weinert Blumberg Chair in English. Cable will recite his series of sonnets from memory. Birthday cake will be served at this free event to honor William Shakespeare’s birthday on April 23. This program will be webcast live.

Persian poetry exhibition attracts international coverage

rubaiyat_identityThe Harry Ransom Center’s exhibition The Persian Sensation: The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám in the West has recently garnered coverage in multiple Arabic and Persian news outlets.

The exhibition has been mentioned in the Tehran Times, Payvand’s Iran News,, Persian Journal, Press TV and Aaram News.

The U.S. Department of State has also published information about the exhibition on its website in English, Persian and Arabic.

The Persian Sensation is on display at the Ransom Center through Aug. 2. The year 2009 marks the 150th anniversary of Edward FitzGerald’s landmark translation of the poetry of the medieval Persian astronomer Omar Khayyám. These gemlike verses about mortality, fate, and doubt became an unprecedented popular phenomenon in England and America but have since fallen into obscurity. Featuring 200 items from the Ransom Center’s extensive collections, the exhibition narrates The Rubáiyát’s history through such items as Persian manuscripts, miniature editions, and illustrated parodies.

Poetry on the Plaza features Persian poetry

An undated Persian manuscript containing Rubáiyát stanzas

An undated Persian manuscript containing Rubáiyát stanzas

In conjunction with the exhibition The Persian Sensation: The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám in the West, the Harry Ransom Center presents the Poetry on the Plaza event Persian Poetry on Wednesday, March 4, at noon.

English graduate student Yaser Amad, Austin musician and artist Koorosh Angali, Middle Eastern Librarian Robin Dougherty, and Michelle Kaiserlian, co-curator of The Persian Sensation, will perform selections by Omar Khayyám, Rumi, and other classical Persian poets.

Refreshments will be served at this free event.

Burnt Orange Britannia

British studies scholars from around the globe will converge on campus Feb. 20-21 for the 2009 British Scholar Annual Conference to be held at the Harry Ransom Center.

Wm. Roger Louis, professor of history and director of the university’s British Studies Program was instrumental in bringing the conference to the university.

A renowned scholar of British history, Louis is the author or editor or more than 30 books on the history, literature and politics of the British Empire. The latest is “Burnt Orange Britannia” (I.B. Tauris, 2006), a collection of autobiographical essays by top historians and scholars of the British experience.

Several UT professors will present papers at the conference, and Linda Colley, professor of history at Princeton University, will give the keynote address. The New York Times named her book “The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh” (Random House) one of the “Ten Best Books of the Year” for 2007.

Learn more about the conference and download a complete schedule of events.

New Book Highlights Work of Photographer Fritz Henle

In Search of Beauty, book coverUT Press and the Harry Ransom Center have jointly published the catalog “Fritz Henle: In Search of Beauty,” a retrospective exhibition of the life and career of the noted 20-century photographer.

The edited book includes commentary by Ransom Center Senior Research Curator of Photography Roy Flukinger, who also curated the current exhibition of Henle’s work.

A contributor to such magazines as LIFE and Harper’s Bazaar, Henle had a distinctive style that was characterized by a unique combination of the realistic and the romantic. The catalog reproduces 127 of Henle’s black-and-white and color photographs, and covers the entire range of Henle’s work, including significant items from the photographer’s archive and family.

The exhibition, on display at the Ransom Center through Aug. 2, features more than 100 photographs, including images of 1930s New York, Mexico, and Paris; nudes; and portraits of famous personalities.

View a slideshow of images featured in the exhibition, or view a video preview online.

The Mystery of the "Victorian Blood Book"

One of the more unusual items in the Evelyn Waugh collection at the Harry Ransom Center is a book known as the “Victorian Blood Book.”

The oblong decoupage book features more than 40 pages of carefully cut-out and assembled engravings from books, all embellished with hand-colored drops of blood and religious commentaries (see inset). The emphasis throughout is on images of the crucifixion, birds and snakes, all dripping with blood.

Learn more about this odd and rather grotesque precursor to modern-day scrapbooks in the “Insider’s Perspective” story from the February issue of the Ransom Center’s eNews.