Megan Barnard

The Harry Ransom Center has acquired the archive of Dominican-American writer Julia Alvarez, best known for her novels that explore the American immigrant experience.

“Many of us at the Ransom Center have long admired Julia Alvarez’s writings,” said Megan Barnard, assistant director for acquisitions and administration for the Ransom Center. “When we learned from her literary agent that she wanted to find a home for her archive, we immediately expressed our interest.”

Though the Ransom Center has received the archive, Barnard said she did not know how long it would take for the contents to be catalogued and made available to the public.

Alvarez has published a wide range of work in her career, ranging from poetry and essays to novels such as “How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents” and “In the Time of the Butterflies.” The materials within this archive include manuscripts, letters, journals and other rare documents. 

“What is so wonderful about her work, other than its lyrical quality and her gift for evoking place, is that so much of it is semi-autobiographical,” said Domino R. Perez, director of the Center for Mexican American Studies. “She continues to draw on her life and the lives of those she grew up with to give those experiences and lives meaning.”

Alvarez was born in New York City but lived in the Dominican Republic from the time she was three months old until she was 10 years old. Her family then fled to the United States when her father was involved in an attempt to overthrow Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo. The difficulties she faced as an immigrant and her bicultural identity are subjects that are at the heart of much of her writing, according to associate English professor John M. Gonzalez.

“She was really one of the first writers to bring to light the story of Dominican-Americans and the Dominican-American diaspora,” Gonzalez said. “In particular, she has an amazing ability to tell the story of … the way Dominican-American women have responded within that diaspora.”

Once the archive is fully catalogued it will be a valuable asset to visitors of the Ransom Center, Gonzalez said.

“It’s a treasure-trove for scholars who are interested in the way stories are put together,” Gonzalez said. “It’s always interesting to see within that process what she left in and what she left out. Things always drop out in the creative process, and what gets left out can sometimes be as revealing as what is left in.”

Students interested in the intersection of sports and literature have an opportunity this summer to study works of athletic literary achievment at the Harry Ransom Center until August.

The exhibition, Literature and Sport, contains almost 150 works of literature on the subject of sports by famous writers and literary critics. The pieces are categorized by different games, such as baseball, boxing and bullfighting, and each sport has its own exhibition hall. Works on exhibition include those of Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner and Norman Mailer among othes.

Megan Barnard, assistant director for acquisitions and administration at the Harry Ransom Center, said the exhibition showcases not only the mechanics of athleticism, but also the deeper connotations of sportsmanship and the human body. 

“It demonstrates how writers have used sport as a backdrop upon which to examine broader issues related to human nature, personal struggle and the various complexities of life,” Barnard said. 

Barnard said she has already been contacted by one faculty member who will bring his class down to the center to see the exhibition in the fall.

Associate professor of English Coleman Hutchison said the exhibition will be a boon to his students in the fall when he teaches a signature course on the “Literature of Sports.” The exhibit will provide the materials for the class, Hutchison said.

“What’s most compelling about the literature of sport is its diversity,” Hutchison said. “Broad arrays of writers have taken up various sports in their fiction, poetry and essays. That diversity is something that the Ransom Center exhibition represents beautifully.” 

Associate professor of English Daniel Birkholz, who will share the teaching duty for the “Literature of Sports” class, said his only issue with the exhibit was that it was too short.

“My only complaint with the HRC exhibit is that it is going to be taken down too soon for Prof. Hutchison and I to have our fall semester students attend it,” Birkholz said.

Nathan Kinsman, a visitor of the exhibition and training specialist in the College of Natural Sciences, has been a die-hard baseball fan for more than a decade. He said the exhibition provides primary sources on baseball, different from TV, and that’s what draws him.

“The literature itself gives a real insight into people’s feelings, not just scores on TV, and the literature get us inside the feeling of how we interpret the perception of the game,” Kinsman said.

Nobel Prize-winning author J.M. Coetzee’s archives, which were acquired by the Harry Ransom Center in 2011, are now available to the public for research.

The archive spans from approximately 1960 to 2012 and includes manuscripts and letters documenting Coetzee’s attempts to find a publisher, among other business transactions and personal papers.

“There’s no end to the discoveries that can be made in this archive, but I think it’s especially valuable for students to see how many times Coetzee revises and rewrites his drafts,” Megan Barnard, a curator of contemporary literature, said. “He tries out various openings to his works, alters his characters and even shifts narrative perspectives.”

Coetzee received his doctorate at UT for his dissertation on Samuel Beckett, which he researched using the Ransom Center’s collection of Beckett’s papers. Included in Coetzee’s archives is a letter from the UT English department offering Coetzee a job as a teaching assistant, with a $2,000 per year salary.

“It is a privilege to have graduated from being a teaching assistant at The University of Texas to being one of the authors whose papers are conserved here,” Coetzee wrote in a blog for the Ransom Center.

Coetzee, who was born in South Africa, now lives and teaches in Australia. However, he remembers the initial impression he had of the Ransom Center when he came to UT as a doctoral student.

“In the 1960s the Ransom Center already had a certain fame, worldwide, for having struck out into a new field for collectors — the field of living authors and their manuscripts,” Coetzee wrote. “The word ‘brash’ tended to find its way into comments on the Ransom Center and its activities, as did the phrase ‘oil money.’”

The archives fill more than 140 document boxes, Barnard said, and trace Coetzee’s writing process through multiple drafts.

“He writes and rewrites repeatedly before completing a book,” Barnard said. “I think it’s important for students to see that writing is a process, that the best writing doesn’t come easily to anyone, not even to a Nobel Laureate.”

Jan Wilm, a lecturer and doctoral candidate at Goethe University Frankfurt, will use the archive for his dissertation on the similarities between literary and philosophical writing.

“Whereas the philosophical — aesthetic, ethical, epistemological — implications of J.M. Coetzee’s work are a fascinating subject for thematic studies of his oeuvre, I am more interested in how philosophical dimensions are integrated into the form of his writing,” Wilm said. “For such a study, it is of inestimable value to track the developments from draft stage to published work.”

Published on March 25, 2013 as "Writers' archives available to public".