Much Ado About Modernist Networks: The Annette Campbell-White Collection


Photo Credit: Courtesy of Elizabeth Page | Daily Texan Staff

Throughout her career as a "pioneering venture capitalist," Annette Campbell-White nurtured a second love — accumulating works by famous writers.

From Aug. 24, 2019 through Jan. 5, 2020, Campbell-White's private collection, Modernist Networks, is displayed at the Harry Ransom Center. Made up of letters, books and manuscripts, the collection features Modernist writers such as Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway and more.

The Daily Texan sat down with the rare book collector to discuss her passion.

The Daily Texan: What sparked your interest in collecting Modernist writing?

Annette Campbell-White: Book collecting entered my life organically. As a young person, I always loved books and reading. I collect Modernist writing because this is a crucial period in the development of literary thought, and a number of the writers are writers whose works have significance for me.

DT: Speaking of significant works, I noticed the first piece you collected is included in this collection. What piece was that?

ACW: It was an Ariel poem — a signed limited edition of a poem written by T. S. Eliot called A Song for Simeon, which was a poem I knew well from my school days. It was in this tiny, hard-backed book, printed on handmade paper and there was a unique lithograph as a frontispiece.

DT: What drew you to that work and how did it inspire your collection?

ACW: It was signed. Financially, I needed to reach to buy this little book. Once I purchased it, after spending so much time in that book shop, I decided I was going to buy more rare books when I had a bit of money.

DT: What went into choosing and acquiring your collection pieces?

ACW: I read auction catalogs or dealer catalogs or discussed items that a dealer might offer and decide if it's interesting or compelling and fits the focus of the collection. In my past, I created a wish list to not only find the books on the list but fine, inscribed and relative copies of those items. Now it's more impulse-driven. I collect letters and manuscripts as well as books, but I travel further afield in my choices. I intensely collect authors in whom I have an interest — Verlaine, for example.

DT: The publication of your memoir this month, Beyond Market Value, corresponds with the exhibition. What do you want your audience to learn from the story's selection of highlights from the collection?

ACW: In the era of #MeToo, I hope that young women will take away the fact that nothing is impossible for a woman to achieve in her career if she focuses, concentrates and keeps moving forward. As for providing an inspiration to collect, I believe that collecting is a passion that finds one and not the other way round.

DT: What is the most important thing for new collectors to keep in mind when accumulating books?

ACW: I made several errors with my early collecting because I was finding my style. Focus is essential. Condition is critical. I didn't realize that initially. Literary notes should tell something of interest. If you don't have the funds, discover a subset of one section that interests you wherever you can manage to build a collection.