According to the article “Center of Attention” on the KU History website, Chamberlain “had his own thirty-minute weekly radio show on student station KUOK” during his time at the University of Kansas. “‘Flip’er with Dipper’ featured current hit records and Chamberlain’s banter, as well as occasional guest appearances by his fellow Jayhawks.”
Theodore Sturgeon, Isaac Asimov, Octavia E. Butler, Kurt Vonnegut, Ursula K. Le Guin, Ray Bradbury, Joanna Russ, William F. Wu, John Kessel, Mary Shelley, and KU’s own James E. Gunn and Kij Johnson are just a few of the writers featured in Spencer Research Library’s new exhibit, Imagined Worlds: Writers and the Process of Speculative Fiction.
While it’s true that all fiction is imagined (at least in part), writers working in the genres of science fiction and fantasy achieve their dramatic interest, pose their philosophic and scientific inquiries, and address social and political issues by playing with and re-configuring the confines of reality. In writing of other worlds, different times, alternate societies, new technologies, and fantastical circumstances, these writers can transfix readers and, in the words of Ursula K. Le Guin, offer a “convincing picture of alternative ways of doing and being, which can shake readers out of fixed mindsets, knock the blinkers off them.”
But how do they do it?
Imagined Worlds offers a peek behind the scenes to explore the messy, impassioned, deliberative, contentious, and inventive processes of speculative fiction (an umbrella term for those genres–including science fiction, fantasy, and horror–that diverge from reality and realism). Materials drawn from Spencer’s collections offer various points of entry into the writer’s experience. There are cases dedicated to:
conversations on the page (correspondence between authors)
influence and inspiration
from idea to book: the process of writing
page to screen (adaptation and writing for film and television)
the business of speculative fiction
There are also additional cases devoted to awards in speculative fiction and reading recommendations from KU faculty members, addressing SF books that have been significant to them. There are also paintings by two of the best-known science fiction and fantasy artists of the 1950s and 1960s, Ed Emshwiller and Frank Kelly Freas.
The books and manuscripts on display reflect Spencer Research Library’s historic strength in the science fiction of the 1930s-1960s, with the addition of materials from more recent collections of writers’ papers. Since the exhibition focuses primarily on correspondence and manuscripts, a slideshow in the exhibition gallery also shares over 50 covers of speculative fiction volumes from Spencer’s collections.
To give a sense of the exhibit, we share something we had we couldn’t quite fit, a memo from Star Trek creator and producer Gene Roddenberry to writer Theodore Sturgeon about Sturgeon’s script draft for “Shore Leave.” One of the more surreal episodes in Star Trek‘s original TV run (1966-1969), “Shore Leave” sees the thoughts of crew members come to life when they beam down to a planet for some rest and relaxation. Roddenberry’s memo suggests the collaborative process involved in making the episode, and it reveals the mix of frankness, humor, and knowing cynicism he employed in guiding his writers.
He balances praising Sturgeon for his successes, with addressing logistical matters—such as the necessity of breaking down the script shot by shot for the sake of the costume, casting, and special effects departments—and then pushes Sturgeon toward what he judges will connect best with viewers. “Wouldn’t your teaser be richer if just one person saw Alice and the rabbit, say McCoy?” Roddenberry asks, “When two people see it, you’ve got a witness. But the poor devil who sees it alone, he’s got trouble.”
Of course, writers like Sturgeon might also push back regarding script changes. During the shooting of “Shore Leave,” Sturgeon would complain about a scene in which the resurrected Dr. McCoy enters with a woman on each arm. This is a “first order vulgarism,” Sturgeon wrote to Roddenberry, arguing that it undercut the emotional development of McCoy’s relationship with the character of Tonia. Roddenberry’s own memo to Sturgeon ends with a serio-comic sign-off that highlights the blend of art and business that television entails: “You’re lovely, inventive, wonderful. Now be commercial.”
Founded in 1969 by a financial gift from a student who thought KU should be collecting science fiction, Spencer Research Library’s SF collections continue to be built largely by donation. Over the decades, they have grown appreciably thanks to the support of James E. Gunn (writer, critic, Professor Emeritus, and founder of KU’s Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction). He has not only donated books and periodicals, but has encouraged others to make gifts as well, including fellow writers, whose papers now reside at KU. These efforts have been continued in recent years by writers Chris McKitterick and Kij Johnson (the current Director and Associate Director of the Gunn Center, respectively). We hope to continue to grow our science fiction and fantasy collections to better reflect the diversity of voices writing in the field.
Imagined Worlds: Writers and the Process of Speculative Fiction is free and open to the public and will be on display in Spencer’s Gallery through July 31st, 2020. We invite you to visit and explore the forces at work as writers imagine worlds!
When new collections, or additions to existing collections, are accessioned into the Spencer Research Library, I arrange and describe the material so that researchers can access them. More often than not, when I begin to look through the unprocessed boxes, I find some interesting surprises.
The Frowe and Lathrop families collection recently received a donation of many additional boxes of correspondence, photographs, diaries, slides, documents, and other material. This collection comprises several generations of the Frowe and Lathrop families from the 1840s to 2016, many of whom lived primarily in Kansas.
One of the interesting items that I found while going through the unprocessed boxes was a red satin Valentine box. When I opened the candy box, underneath cherished cards and invitations, I found an inscription on the bottom written by Eva Lathrop, “Feb[ruary] 14, 1924/ Fred had my diamond ring in this box of chocolates and presented it to me. The ring box was wrapped in the foil off of one of the pieces of candy.” She accepted A. G. (Fred) Phillips’ proposal, and they were married several months later. Spencer Research Library doesn’t always keep objects unless they have a good story to tell, which this candy box does. Kaitlin McGrath, a student in the conservation department working with Collections Conservator Roberta Woodrick, created a special box to house the Valentine box.
One of the most interesting sets of finds in this collection were very early family photographs inside hinged cases, dated from the 1850s-1870s. There are over 20 daguerreotypes, tintypes, and ambrotypes of identified or partially identified men, women, and children related to the Frowe and Lathrop families. Some of the small, ornately-decorated cases appear to be made out of gutta purcha or vulcanite—common plant-based materials used in this time period. Normally, print photographs are put into acid-free folders and a document case. However, these fragile, bulky photographs in their cases needed special consideration for housing and accessibility.
Special Collections Conservator:
Most of the cased photographs that Spencer already holds are
individual items within their collections, so they are housed individually in
custom enclosures. The size of this group makes that approach impractical; it
would be time-consuming to make so many special enclosures from scratch, and
they would take up a lot of shelf space, which is always a consideration when
housing our collections. Housing this group of photographs together also made
sense from an access perspective; a single container is easier for staff to
retrieve and for researchers to view than twenty-some separate containers.
I estimated that I could fit all of the photographs into one standard size flat archival box, provided I could safely arrange them in two layers. Lynn sorted the photographs by family groups into two sets, and then set about devising a lightweight but protective structure for the interior of the box. I created two trays from layers of archival corrugated cardboard, with cavities cut to fit each of the cased photographs. Each cavity is lined with soft Tyvek® fabric to prevent abrasion of the cases, and cases with loose covers are tied with cotton tape to prevent shifting. I attached strips of archival foam around the edges of the lower tray to support the upper tray, and added handles of linen tape to the upper tray for easy removal.
Lynn Ward, Processing
After the cases returned from conservation in their special box, I needed to come up with a way to describe the cased photographs. Normally for a print photograph, the description would be connected to the folder in which the photograph is housed. Since these cased photographs were arranged in layers in their special box, I decided to describe them by layer and by rows within each layer. Each photograph in its case was described with its location in the box, as well as the identification, or partial identification of the individual(s) when known.
I am pleased to announce major changes to our policies and procedures at Kenneth Spencer Research Library. We will no longer ask patrons to seek our permission before using copies of our collection materials. Spencer Research Library is doing more than ever to make it possible for people to use our materials with as few barriers as possible.
We recently enabled patrons to initiate the copy request process through our Aeon management system, streamlining the process for both staff and users. We decided to use this technological change as the impetus to fundamentally re-imagine our relationship with digital images of items from our collections. This approach is in keeping with KU Libraries’ emphasis on supporting open access and advocating for public accountability for the investments in public higher education.
For many years now, we have allowed users to make copies of much of our collection material themselves, using either an overhead scanner in the Reading Room or their own equipment. We also make copies available when an item’s condition or format requires special handling, for a modest charge. No matter whether patrons use their own equipment or our skilled staff do the copying, patrons will no longer be expected to complete a separate form asking for “permission to publish,” as was previously required when images from our collections were to be used in exhibits, publications, or other works.
We continue to inform users of their responsibilities to follow copyright law, and we provide enhanced guidance on how to do so. We also continue to honor restrictions on some specific collections necessitated by the condition of the material, donor restrictions, or other concerns. We are in the midst of revisiting our previously digitized collections to clearly indicate the copyright status (where known) and how the images can be used. Expecting researchers to seek our permission for fair use of materials smacks of what has been termed “copyfraud,” or claiming to possess rights one does not actually hold. We also realize that users have always been free to use images as they like, and that in effect, researchers who chose to follow our rules were punished with additional hurdles.
In the Reading Room, users will now experience a less complex process. If the material they are using for research can be safely copied by them, they simply need to be careful in their scanning and metadata creation. If library staff need to be involved, reference librarians will help them translate their Aeon checkout into a duplication request, and our copy services manager will take it from there.
Remote users will also see a different process. Instead of filling out a paper form and sending it to our copy services manager, they will use the Aeon system to complete their request. Then, the transaction will proceed as in the past, without the need to complete a permission to publish form.
Our website provides more guidance about these steps. We look forward to helping all our users learn our new processes and are happy to assist in any way.
Beth M. Whittaker Associate Dean for Distinctive Collections Director of Spencer Research Library